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Since Pell returned to Australia from the Vatican in July, he has lived in Sydney and flown to Melbourne for his court hearings.His circumstances are far removed from the years he spent as the high-profile and polarizing archbishop of Melbourne and later Sydney before his promotion to Rome in 2014.For Francis, they are a threat to his credibility, given that he famously promised a “zero tolerance” policy for sex abuse in the church.Advocates for abuse victims have long railed against Francis’ decision to appoint Pell to the high-ranking position in the first place.Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic will appear for the first time on Wednesday in the Victoria state County Court, where he has been ordered to stand trial at a date yet to be set.

So far, Francis has withheld judgment of Pell, saying he wants to wait for justice to run its course.Wallington dismissed one charge because the alleged victim was an “unsatisfactory witness” during the first two weeks of the preliminary hearing, when complainants testified via a video link from a remote location to a courtroom closed to the public and media.“It is difficult to see how a jury could convict on the evidence of a man who has said on his affirmation that he cannot recall what he said a minute ago,” Wallington said.She described her job in the preliminary hearing as “sifting the wheat from the chaff.”“Unless the credibility of a witness is effectively destroyed, credibility and reliability are matters for a jury,” she said.When she asked Pell how he pleaded, the cardinal said in a firm voice, “Not guilty.” Wallington gave the 76-year-old permission not to stand as is customary.When the magistrate left the room at the end of the hearing, many people in the packed public gallery broke into applause.

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The case places both the cardinal and the pope in potentially perilous territory.