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Vatican Treasurer Cardinal George Pell is surrounded by Australian police and members of the media as he leaves the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Australia, July 26, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Dadswell


By Byron Kaye

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell made a brief court appearance in his native Australia on Wednesday to face what police described as "historical sexual offences", making him the most senior Roman Catholic official to face such accusations.

Pell, 76, a top adviser to Pope Francis, did not speak as he was escorted to and from Melbourne Magistrates' Court by police through a large crowd of media, protesters and supporters. He was not required to enter a plea.

Australian police said last month Pell had been summoned to appear on charges of "historical sexual offences" from multiple complainants.

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

Magistrate Duncan Reynolds said he was denying media requests to see the charge sheets against Pell, who also did not speak during the five-minute hearing.

Reynolds set a committal hearing date of Oct. 6 and told Pell's lawyers they would receive a summary of the charges by Sept. 8.

A magistrate decides at a committal hearing whether prosecutors have enough evidence for a case to be committed to trial. Pell is not required to enter a formal plea until a magistrate determines whether there is cause for a full trial.

Pell has previously said he was looking forward to his day in court to fight charges he said are false.

Protesters and supporters carrying religious icons shouted as Pell entered and then left the courthouse in central Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city.

Pell is on a leave of absence from his Vatican role as Francis' economy minister, which he started in 2014. The pontiff has said he will not comment on the case until it is over.

(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Writing by Jane Wardell; Editing by Paul Tait)

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