Cardinal Pell faces court over historical sex offences
CARDINAL George Pell has arrived at the Melbourne Magistrates Court to begin the fight to clear his name over sex offence allegations.
Cardinal Pell arrived at court flanked by police.
He was escorted up Lonsdale St by a dozen officers.
Media from around the world hurled questions at the Cardinal but he remained silent.
Dressed in a black overcoat, he stared at the ground for much of the walk to the court steps.
When he was charged with historical sex offences last month the Cardinal said he was looking forward to having his day in court in a bid to prove his innocence.
The Cardinal will appear at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in a historic hearing for the Catholic Church which has been rocked by the criminal proceedings against the Vatican official.
Media crews and supporters of abuse survivors arrived early at court, with CNN the first to arrive at 5am.
The court opened about 8.30am with media slowly making their way inside the court building.
Protesters holding posters, masks and messages are on the steps of the court.
Senior court staff and security guards were also at court early anticipating large crowds.
The guards have been at court since 9.30pm last night.
Court 2, in which the hearing will be held, has room for just 37 onlookers, not including lawyers and police.
When Cardinal Pell appears in court he will become the most senior Catholic to ever face court charged with sex offences.
The nature of the charges being faced by Cardinal Pell have not yet been revealed.
It is known only that there are multiple charges relating to multiple complainants.
Since the Herald Sun first revealed in February 2015 Cardinal Pell was under investigation he has persistently and vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
The 76-year-old immediately took a leave of absence from his post as the Vatican's finance chief in a move church insiders predict may have ended his Vatican career.
"I'm innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sex offences is abhorrent to me," he said to a global press conference on the day he was charged.
"News of these charges strengthens my resolve, and court proceedings now offer me an opportunity to clear my name and then return to my work in Rome.
"I am looking forward finally to having my day in court."
Today's filing hearing will formally start the court proceedings that legal experts predict could continue for several years.
During the short administrative hearing, which could last just minutes, a timetable will be set down that will outline how the case will proceed.
Prosecutors will be given a date by which they must have compiled their brief of evidence, and a committal mention date will be fixed.
The brief will include all the evidence in the case in the form of written and signed statements from all witnesses together with copies of or photographs of exhibits.
They must be served at least 42 days before the committal mention hearing unless the accused gives written consent to a shorter period for service.
For sexual offences, the committal mention hearing must be within three months after the commencement of the criminal proceedings.
In some circumstances the date can be extended if the court is satisfied that it is in the interests of justice to do so.
During a filing hearing the court may also make any other necessary directions such as making directions about the forensic examination of exhibits.
Bail conditions may also be discussed or strengthened.
Because Cardinal Pell is charged on summons he is not obliged to attend today's hearing.
But he has flagged his intention to attend court in person.
The court has repeatedly confirmed no special arrangements have been put in place for the hearing.
Despite some concerns for the Cardinal's safety given the high profile nature of the case, it is expected he will enter court like everybody else, meaning he could be lined up alongside other accused criminals.
He will be scanned at a security checkpoint upon arrival, and forced to have any personal items scanned also.
While the court is keen to ensure his case is treated like any other, a range of special measures have been introduced.
New protocols for accessing material filed with the court have been implemented, while media have been banned from certain areas of the court precinct usually used by television journalists.
It is understood the measures have been taken to deal with an influx of international media expected to fly in for the hearing.
Media from across the globe have inquired about attending the hearing while local outlets have dedicated up to five journalists to cover the case.
Abuse survivors, with no connection to the charges against Cardinal Pell, are also expected to attend in large numbers.
But, like other filing hearings, the court has flagged the hearing will be held in one of its smaller courts, courtroom 2.
It holds about 50 people, meaning many may not be able to watch the hearing.
But across the world all eyes will be on the Melbourne Magistrates Court as the Cardinal makes his historic appearance.