March 5 (UPI) -- Lawyers for Cardinal George Pell said in court on Monday that police failed to follow procedure in investigating alleged sex crimes against him.
Pell, 76, is the highest-ranking Catholic official to be accused of sexual offenses. His first day in court to refute charges occurred Monday, in Melbourne Magistrates' Court.
A judge will determine in a month-long committal hearing if there is sufficient evidence to hold a trial. Pell was charged last year with multiple prior sexual offenses. As many as 50 witnesses were expected to be called during Monday's hearing.
A 25-minute appearance by Pell began the proceedings. His attorney, Robert Richter, accused police in Australia's Victoria state of working under the presumption that Pell is guilty in obtaining statements and evidence.
Richter argued that more than 20 statements, which could possibly clear Pell, were not investigated properly.
"These documents are certainly relevant to the alleged offenses. I know they don't suit the prosecution because they're exculpatory, but they're still there and they're in the possession of the police," he said. "We say that was not followed because there was a presumption of guilt."
Pell arrived in court on Monday under heavy police guard, with at least 20 officers shielding him from news media.
Pell was archbishop of Melbourne before working as Prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy, the Vatican's finance director.