Top papal advisor silent as he enters Melbourne court facing charges of sex abuse

Cardinal George Pell, the Pope's financial adviser and highest-ranking figure in the Australian Catholic Church, was silent this morning as he entered Melbourne Magistrate's Court where he faces charges of historic sex offences.

Pell announced late in June that he was taking leave following historic allegations of sex abuse.

Vatican Treasurer Cardinal George Pell is surrounded by Australian police and members of the media as he arrives at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Australia, July 26, 2017.Reuters

Pell, 76, is the most senior Vatican official to have faced charges of sexual abuse. At a Vatican press conference in June, he strongly denied the accusations and plans to clear his name from the charges. 'I am looking forward finally to having my day in court. I am innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me,' he said.

Today, he entered silent, surrounded by a gaggle of press and onlookers, into Melbourne Magistrate's Court, where the small courtroom was also packed with reporters, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

The details of the charges against Pell are still unknown to the media, though police confirmed last year that the prelate was under investigation for historic offences in the state of Victoria in the 1970s. There was no trial today, the meeting only set a date for evidence to be served on Pell's legal team on September 8, and for Pell to return to court for a hearing on October 6.

Pell's defence barrister Robert Richter, QC, told the court: 'For the avoidance of doubt ... Cardinal Pell will plead not guilty to all charges, and will maintain the presumed innocence that he has.'

Pell has recently faced criticism for his handling of the clerical sex abuse scandal in the Australian Catholic church, after an independent inquiry uncovered unprecedented levels of child abuse. Pell said that the Church had made 'catastrophic choices' in its dealing with the scandal, and admitted he could have done more to investigate claims of abuse.