Australian Cardinal to Go On Trial For Sexual Abuse Charges

An Australian court ruled Tuesday that Cardinal George Pell, one of the Vatican’s highest-ranking officials and a close adviser to Pope Francis, must face trial on charges of historical sexual offenses.

Pell will be the highest-ranked Catholic official to be tried on such charges during the church’s decades-long sexual abuse scandal involving clergy. 

He has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty Tuesday. 

Magistrate Belinda Wallington dismissed half the charges Pell was facing, including some his lawyer said were the most serious.

Pell was released on bail, but is not allowed to leave Australia where he returned last year after Pope Francis granted him a leave of absence.

The Vatican said in a statement it has “taken note” of Tuesday’s court decision and that Pell’s leave of absence remains in place.

Pell has long been under criticism for his handling of priests accused of sexually abusing children during his years as archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney. He was interviewed twice by a special commission formed to investigate allegations of sexual abuse committed by clergy, many of them dating back decades.