Cardinal George Pell to appear in court for first time over historical sexual offence charges

Cardinal George Pell to appear in court for first time over historical sexual offence charges

Cardinal George Pell to appear in court for first time over historical sexual offence charges

Updated 26 July 2017, 6:45 AEST

Cardinal George Pell, Australia's most senior Catholic, is due to front a Melbourne court for the first time today as he fights historical sexual offence charges.

Cardinal George Pell is due to front a Melbourne court for the first time today as he fights historical sexual offence charges.

Australia's most senior Catholic was charged by Victoria Police detectives late last month with offences involving multiple complainants.

The details of the allegations have not been made public.

The Pope granted Pell leave to return to Australia from the Vatican for his first appearance in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court today.

A court spokeswoman said he would not receive any special treatment.

Pell will front a short hearing in which dates will be set for his next appearance.

He is not legally required to appear in person and could have opted to have a lawyer represent him instead.

But it is understood he will be in court, represented by top criminal barrister Robert Richter QC.

Last month, Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton told reporters the "process and procedures" being followed had been the same as those applied "in a whole range of historical sex offences, whenever we investigate them".

Pell has always maintained his innocence and strenuously denied allegations of historical sexual abuse.

In the hours after he was charged, he told reporters he had been the victim of "relentless character assassination" and the charges "strengthened his resolve" to clear his name.

"I'm looking forward, finally, to having my day in court," he said.

"I'm innocent of those charges. They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me."

George Pell 'grateful' for public support

There was initially speculation about whether Pell would return to Australia to front court, after he was unable to travel from Rome in 2016 to give evidence in person to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

At the time, the commission accepted Pell would be at risk of heart failure if forced to fly to Australia.

But on his arrival in Sydney earlier this month, a spokeswoman for Pell issued a statement saying his return should come as no surprise.

"When he was told of the charges by Victoria Police, Cardinal Pell said in Rome he totally rejected the allegations, was completely innocent of the charges and would return to Australia to vigorously defend himself and clear his name," the statement said.

"His return today then should not be a surprise."

The spokeswoman said Pell had staggered his journey over "several days" on advice from his doctors, in order to avoid long-haul flights.

"Cardinal Pell will not be making further comment other than to say he is grateful for the numerous messages of support he continues to receive," the statement said.