Cardinal Pell
Pell has not had to enter a plea yet, but at his first appearance at the same court in July he instructed his lawyer to make clear he intended to plead not guilty. AFP

A court on Friday announced that about 50 witnesses may be called to a hearing in March to find out if there is enough evidence to charge Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell on sexual abuse.

Cardinal George Pell, 75, who is a top adviser to Pope Francis has been accused of multiple historical sexual offences which reportedly happened long ago.

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Pell will be the most senior Catholic cleric to be charged with criminal offences linked to the church’s long-running sexual abuse scandal.

The exact situation surrounding his allegations have not been made public, what is known is that it involves ‘multiple complainants’.

The 75-year-old cleric returned to the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Friday for a largely administrative matter which will determine his fate on the 5th of March.

The matter discussed will fix a four-week committal hearing which will decide whether or not there is enough evidence from the prosecution for the court to proceed with his trial.

But for legal reasons many of the details would have been revealed, however, Magistrate Belinda Wallington said all witnesses would be allowed except five. Those who would be allowed include some former choirboys.

“It is appropriate to allow people’s memories to be further explored,” she said.

His barrister Robert Richter in his defense, suggested it was “impossible” that some alleged incidents occurred at a Melbourne cathedral.

“We propose to demonstrate … that what was alleged was impossible,” he told Wallington.

Pells to maintain innocence

The Vatican economic minister has not entered any plea yet, however, at his first appearance at the same court in July, he instructed his lawyer to make it clear that he intended to plead ‘Not Guilty’ to the allegations.

“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 said at the time.

Pell, a former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop, was not required to attend the hearing Friday.

But Australia’s most powerful Catholic again opted to appear, having previously vowed to defend himself and clear his name after a two-year investigation led to him being charged on June 29.

Leave of absence

Pell has been granted a leave of absence by the Pope, who has made it clear the cardinal would not be forced to resign his post as head of the Vatican’s powerful economic ministry.

But the scandal has rocked the church.

Australia’s Catholic leaders have previously spoken out in support of him, describing Pell as a “thoroughly decent” man.

The Institute of Public Affairs, a high-profile conservative Australian think tank revealed that his supporters have set up a fund to help him pay his court costs.

The allegations coincide with the final stages of Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, ordered in 2012 after a decade of pressure to investigate widespread allegations of institutional paedophilia.

The commission has spoken to thousands of survivors and heard claims of child abuse involving churches, orphanages, sporting clubs, youth groups and schools.

Pell appeared before the commission three times, once in person and twice via video-link from Rome.