Australia's most senior Catholic Cardinal George Pell arrives at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, March 5, 2018.
Australia's most senior Catholic Cardinal George Pell arrives at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Melbourne, Australia, Monday, March 5, 2018. AAP Image - Stefan Postles

Chaos in Melbourne as Pell fronts court

CARDINAL George Pell was shielded by police as he walked through a scrum of journalists and photographers outside a Melbourne court on Monday morning.

Australia's highest ranking Catholic and Pope Francis' top financial adviser arrived at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court for day one of a 30-day committal hearing.

The preliminary hearing will determine whether or not he stands trial on historical sexual assault charges.

Pell, 76, denies the multiple historical sexual offence charges involving multiple complainants.

Footage from outside court on Monday showed Pell walking though the front doors of the courthouse on William St and through security where he stood with his arms outstretched and was patted down.

Cardinal Pell was asked "How are you feeling?" by a reporter but he did not offer a response.

The committal hearing will initially be open to the public as the defence and prosecution finalise further administrative matters, but will quickly move behind closed doors as accusers begin their evidence.

The hearing will be closed to the public and media for two weeks while the complainants give their evidence, as required by law in sexual offence cases. At the end of the four-week proceeding, it will be up to Magistrate Belinda Wallington to decide if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial in the Victorian County Court.

Cardinal Pell will not have to enter a formal plea unless committed to stand trial, but his barrister Robert Richter QC said at the Vatican treasurer's first court appearance last July that Pell will plead not guilty to all charges.

The former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop and Ballarat priest has taken leave from his position as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy to fight the charges.

Prosecutors on Friday withdrew one of the charges, relating to a complainant who died after the criminal proceedings began in 2017.

Dozens of Australian and international journalists are expected to cover the court case, with foreign interest from the BBC, CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Swedish National Radio.

The hearing was expected to begin around 10am on Monday. More to come.

- With AAP


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