Australia court told of fresh allegations against Vatican finance chief: media

Cardinal George Pell leaving court earlier this month

Fresh allegations have been made against Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell, an Australian court was told Tuesday during a hearing to determine if he should stand trial on historical sexual offence charges.

The 76-year-old, who is a top adviser to Pope Francis, is on leave and returned to Australia to fight the allegations which relate to incidents that allegedly occurred long ago.

The exact details and nature of the accusations have not been made public, other than they involve "multiple complainants".

The committal hearing at Melbourne Magistrates Court, which kicked off on March 5, was told by Pell's barrister Robert Richter that a witness due to testify next week had made a second statement to police, The Australian newspaper said.

"We had no forewarning of this at all," Richter told the court, the newspaper reported, adding that the development was "more than troubling".

There were no details about the fresh allegations, but they were understood to be of a criminal nature, Melbourne's Herald Sun reported.

Richter said his legal team needed time to investigate the new claims, which he had received late Monday, and it was not yet known if they could lead to new charges against his client.

Richter applied for the witness to be removed from the police's brief of evidence and to be dealt with separately.

Prosecutor Mark Gibson said the witness' testimony could be part of another proceeding if needed, the Australian reported.

Up to 50 witnesses could be called during the committal hearing, where they will give their accounts and be cross-examined by Pell's legal team. The hearings are due to last four weeks.

Magistrate Belinda Wallington will then decide if there is sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial.

Pell, a former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop, is the highest-ranking Catholic official to be charged with historical sex offences.

The cleric has not had to enter a plea, although he instructed his lawyer from the outset to make clear he intended to plead not guilty.