Melbourne — The most senior Vatican official ever charged in the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis is expected to make his first court appearance in Australia on Wednesday, as he vows to clear his name in a scandal that has rattled Rome.
Cardinal George Pell, Australia's highest-ranking Catholic and Pope Francis' top financial adviser, was charged last month with sexually abusing multiple people years ago in his Australian home state of Victoria.
The details of the allegations against the 76-year-old cardinal have yet to be released to the public, though police have described the charges as "historical" sexual assault offenses — meaning crimes that occurred years ago.
Pell is to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court for a hearing that will likely last just minutes and deal largely with administrative matters, such as setting future court dates.
Despite the routine nature of the hearing, it is expected to draw hordes of journalists, abuse survivors and spectators.
Pell took a leave of absence from his duties in Rome to return to Australia to fight the charges. He has vehemently denied the allegations, saying last month, "The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me."
The pope has said he will wait for Australian justice to run its course before making a judgment of Pell himself.
For years, Pell has faced allegations that he mishandled cases of clergy abuse when he served as archbishop of Melbourne and, later, Sydney. But more recently, Pell became the focus of a clergy sex abuse investigation, with Victoria detectives flying to the Vatican to interview him last year.
Pell is free ahead of his court hearing, during which he may formally apply for bail.