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Vatican's treasurer ordered to stand trial in Australia

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Cardinal George Pell is surrounded by police officers as he arrives at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Melbourne, Australia, on Tuesday. Magistrate Belinda Wallington ordered Pell, 76, will stand trial on sexual assault dating back more than 40 years. Photo by Daniel Pockett/EPA

By Allen Cone, UPI

Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican's treasurer, was ordered Tuesday to stand trial in Australia on charges that he sexually abused multiple victims up to 40 years ago.

Melbourne Magistrate Belinda Wallington ruled there is sufficient evidence of multiple charges against Pell, who is the third-ranking official under Pope Francis. The majority of the charges against Pell, 76, were were thrown out, including the most serious charges to have taken place in a playground, on an altar, on a mountain top and during a screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind in Ballarat.

Last June, Pell was charged and was placed on leave by Pope Francis to handle the charges in his native country.

Pell is the most senior figure in the Catholic church to face criminal charges.

He has denied the allegations of sex assault offenses from several complainants, saying the idea of sexual abuse was "abhorrent" to him. Additional charges might be filed.

Pell formally entered a plea of not guilty. His bail was extended and was ordered to appear in County Court on Wednesday to set a date for his trial.

As Pell entered the courthouse, he was surrounded by more than 40 uniformed police officers and members of the media. He was wearing a cleric's collar.

Last March, dozens of witnesses, including a number of accusers, gave evidence against Pell.

Pell's lawyers told the court that the first complainant approached police in 2015, 40 years after the alleged crimes.

In 2016, the pope said: "It's in the hands of the justice system and one cannot judge before the justice system. After the justice system speaks, I will speak."

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