A hearing to determine if Australian Cardinal George Pell stands trial over historical sexual offence charges will begin today amid intense worldwide media interest.

The preliminary hearing for the highest-ranking Catholic official in the world to be charged with sexual abuse gets under way in the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

Pell, 76, denies the charges involving multiple complainants.

He will face court for the four-week committal hearing that is expected to generate global media coverage.


The court will initially be open to the public as the defence and prosecution finalise administrative matters, but will quickly move behind closed doors as accusers begin their evidence.

The hearing will be closed to the public and media for two weeks while the complainants give their evidence, as required by law in sexual offence cases.

Dozens of Australian and international journalists are expected to cover the court case.

The Vatican treasurer was surrounded by journalists and camera crews as he made his way to and from the court building for two brief appearances in July and October.

Pell did not attend a number of administrative updates in court as the defence and prosecution prepared for the committal hearing.

The former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop and Ballarat priest returned to Australia soon after he was charged last June, taking a leave of absence from his position as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.

Pell will not have to enter a formal plea unless committed to stand trial, but his barrister Robert Richter QC told the cardinal's first court appearance last July that Pell would plead not guilty to all charges.

As many as 50 people will be called as witnesses at the committal stage.

Magistrate Belinda Wallington will decide if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial in the Victorian County Court.