July 26 (UPI) — Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s highest ranking Catholic priest, pleaded not guilty Wednesday to sex abuse charges, court documents say.
Pell, who is the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, or chief financial officer, said several weeks ago he would take a leave of absence to address “historical sexual assault offenses” of which he had been accused. It is unclear if the charges in court relate to accusations by two men, now in their 40s, who have said Pell inappropriately touched them in the 1970s while Pell was a Melbourne priest.
Victoria state police announced in June that Pell would be charged on multiple counts of historical sexual abuse. He is the highest ranking Australian priest, and most senior Vatican official, to be charged in court with sexual abuse.
Pell appeared Wednesday at a brief hearing in Melbourne, with his lawyer entering a not guilty plea on his behalf.
Prosecutors have until Sept. 8 to prepare their brief of evidence. The next step in the trial is a preliminary hearing, called the committal mention, scheduled for Oct. 6.