6 Oct 2017

Cardinal Pell appears at Melbourne court

12:43 pm on 6 October 2017

Cardinal George Pell will face a four-week committal hearing next March as he fights historical sexual offence allegations.

Australia's most senior Catholic cleric was at Melbourne Magistrates' Court for a hearing as he fights historical sexual offence allegations.

Cardinal George Pell at his first court appearance in Melbourne in July.

Cardinal George Pell at his first court appearance in July. Photo: AFP

He was charged by Victoria Police detectives in June with historical sexual offences involving multiple complainants.

The exact details and nature of the charges have not been made public.

Today's hearing was called to deal with procedural issues ahead of a committal hearing.

The court heard about 50 witnesses will give evidence at the committal hearing, which will determine whether there is enough evidence to commit him to stand trial.

Cardinal Pell strenuously denies the allegations.

Cardinal Pell and his legal team entered the court with a police escort, in a scene similar to his his first appearance in July when he was swamped by media.

Some reporters lined up to get a spot inside court for the hearing from about 5am, and Victoria Police also blocked off part of William Street outside the court.

Prosecutors were last month due to serve a brief of evidence on Cardinal Pell's legal team, including top criminal barrister Robert Richter QC.

Last July, Mr Richter told Cardinal Pell's first court hearing that his client did not have to enter a plea at that early stage in proceedings, but would maintain his innocence.

"For the avoidance of doubt and because of the interest, might I indicate that Cardinal Pell pleads not guilty to all charges and will maintain his presumed innocence that he has," he said.

The magistrate refused the media's request for access to the court file including charge sheets, and the court was not expected to change its position at today's hearing.

The Pope granted him leave from his duties as Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat, a very senior role in the papal administration, to return to Australia to fight the charges.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney has previously said it would not pay its former archbishop's legal costs.

A fund has been set up for Cardinal Pell's supporters to donate money to help fund his legal team. It is being run by a law firm based in Ivanhoe East in Melbourne's north-east.