Australian cardinal facing sex charges makes court appearance

A lawyer for a senior Roman Catholic Church figure accused of sexual assault said Wednesday that his client plans to plead not guilty to all accusations against him.  

Cardinal George Pell, 76, is the highest-ranking Roman Catholic to be formally charged with sexual offenses, the New York Times reported.

Pell, Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic, was surrounded by camera crews and police officers as he appeared for his first day in court in Melbourne.

Lawyer Robert Richter strongly maintained Pell’s innocence, the BBC reported.

“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,” Richter told the court.

"I might indicate that Cardinal Pell pleads not guilty to all charges."

- Robert Richter, attorney for Cardinal George Pell

Pell, who serves as Pope Francis’ chief financial adviser, said nearly a month ago that he was taking a leave of absence after multiple accusations of “historical sexual assault offenses” came out against him.

It was unclear what allegations the charges relate to, but two men, now in their 40s, have said Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.

For years, Pell has faced allegations that he mishandled cases of clergy abuse when he was archbishop of Melbourne and, later, Sydney.

But more recently, Pell became the focus of a clergy sex abuse investigation, with Victoria detectives flying to the Vatican last year to interview the cardinal.

Pell is expected to return to court Oct. 6.