An Australian court on Tuesday ordered Vatican treasurer George Pell to face trial on charges of historical sexual offences, Reuters reported. The 76-year-old Roman Catholic official is on a leave of absence from his post as economy minister to Pope Francis, who has refused to comment on the matter until the case is closed.
The court’s order makes Pell the senior-most Catholic official to be tried for such allegations. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. The case is the church’s longest-running sexual abuse scandal.
In 2012, a royal commission was set up to investigate complaints of institutional paedophilia. Pell’s records have been marred by allegations that he covered up complaints of child sexual abuse by priests and that he committed the crime himself.
Pell has propagated traditional Catholic values, upheld a conservative stance on same-sex marriage and contraception, and has been a proponent of priestly celibacy.
In January 2017, Pope Francis had directed Catholic bishops across the world to maintain zero tolerance towards child sexual abuse by the clergy. In 2014, he had set up a commission, comprising a few sexual abuse victims, to advise local churches on how to prevent abuse. Pope Francis had also proposed to establish a Vatican tribunal to judge bishops accused of covering up sexual abuse, or even failing to prevent it.
Pell has been ordered to be present at the Melbourne County Court on May 2.