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A victim advocate holds a painting of Mary and Jesus outside the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Melbourne, 26 July 2017. Cardinal Pell, 76, Australia's most senior Catholic, was charged on 29 June 2017, with multiple counts of historical sexual assault offences. EPA/JOE CASTRO 
A victim advocate holds a painting of Mary and Jesus outside the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Melbourne, 26 July 2017. Cardinal Pell, 76, Australia's most senior Catholic, was charged on 29 June 2017, with multiple counts of historical sexual assault…

Cardinal Pell arrives in Australia to face court on sex abuse charges

The former archbishop of Sydney  is alleged to have sexually abused children when he was a priest in Ballarat (1976-80) and when he was the archbishop of…

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Australian Cardinal George Pell, considered one of the Vatican's most important priests, arrived Wednesday at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court to appear at a preliminary trial session for alleged historical sexual abuse.

  At the hearing, which lasted about six minutes, the court ordered the police to hand all evidence to Pell's lawyers before Sept. 8 and scheduled a new session among all parties for Oct. 6.

  The 76-year-old Catholic priest was escorted by police and his defense team, while victims who have accused him of alleged sexual abuse committed between 1986 and 2001 in the state of Victoria were also present.

  Pell, who defended his innocence, appeared in court at 10.00am local time, however, he did not make any statement to the court.

  Robert Richter, head of the Cardinal's legal team, said in court "For the avoidance of doubt and because of the interest, I might indicate that Cardinal Pell pleads not guilty to all charges and will maintain the presumed innocence that he has."

  The Australian cardinal was formally charged by police in Victoria state on Jun. 29, and on the next day denied all the accusations at a press conference in the Vatican.

  The Vatican's finance chief and Australia's highest ranking Roman Catholic, Pell returned to Australia on Jul. 10, accompanied by a security entourage.

  Pell is alleged to have sexually abused children when he was a priest in Ballarat (1976-80) and when he was the archbishop of Melbourne (1996-2001).

  This is not the first time Pell has been accused of sexual abuse.

  In 2002, when Pell was archbishop of Sydney, a man claimed to have been sexually abused by Pell in 1961, when he was only 12 years old, and the later cardinal was then serving as a priest.

  At the time, the investigations exonerated Pell.

  The cardinal was the first Catholic leader to address the subject of sexual abuse of minors in the Australian Catholic Church, starting a program of financial compensation in 1996.

  However, he was also criticized for not providing sufficient support to the victims.

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