News World Cardinal George Pell hires Victoria’s top criminal defence barrister
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Cardinal George Pell hires Victoria’s top criminal defence barrister

Cardinal Pell has promised to return to Australia to face charges. Photo: AAP
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Cardinal George Pell has hired top criminal barrister Robert Richter, QC, to help defend him on charges of historical sexual assault and will reportedly be at a Melbourne court on July 26 for a scheduled hearing.

The 76-year-old on Thursday told journalists at the Vatican Press Office he was looking forward to having his day in court after a two-year investigation, “leaks to the media” and “relentless character assassination”.

Victorian Police have charged the cardinal, a former Melbourne and Sydney archbishop and Ballarat priest, with multiple sex offences but the details of those offences have not been released.

Cardinal Pell said the laying of charges had strengthened his resolve to prove his innocence.

Mr Richter, who has defended Melbourne underworld-linked figure Mick Gatto and other notable clients, told News Corp on Friday he was expecting the cardinal to be in court on July 26.

“As I understand it, the cardinal will be there for the filing hearing.”

Cardinal Pell on Thursday said he was discussing with his lawyers and doctors about how and when he would return to Australia from Rome, where as Vatican treasurer he is considered the third most powerful person in the Catholic Church.

Doctors have previously advised the cardinal against long-haul flights because of a heart condition.

Pope Francis has granted Cardinal Pell a leave of absence to return to Australia to defend himself.

The 76-year-old cardinal hopes to return to his job in Rome, but court proceedings involving multiple complainants could stretch into 2019, let alone guilty verdicts in any trials.

On Friday, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney said they would house Cardinal Pell when he returns, but Archbishop Anthony Fisher said the Archdiocese would not pay for his legal fees.

In a statement on Thursday the Holy See said it was important to recall that Cardinal Pell had “openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse committed against minors”.

The cardinal has been living near St Peters Basilica in an apartment with a balcony overlooking a piazza where mobile stalls sell gelato and Vatican mementoes to tourists.