THE most senior Catholic Church leader to be charged with sexual abuse came close to confronting his accusers yesterday in a video-linked Australian court hearing to test the strength of the prosecution’s case.

Cardinal George Pell’s alleged victims began testifying in the Melbourne Magistrates Court against Pope Francis’s former finance minister in testimony that cannot be made public.

But the complainants, who cannot be identified, are avoiding media scrutiny and the company of their alleged abuser by giving their evidence via video.

The number of alleged victims has not been made public, and their testimony is scheduled to continue for up to two weeks.

The 76-year-old Australian cardinal has denied any wrongdoing and has foreshadowed pleas of not guilty if the committal hearing that is likely to run as long as a month finds there is sufficient evidence to warrant a jury trial.

Pell was charged last June with sexually abusing multiple people in his Australian home state of Victoria.

The details of the allegations have yet to be released to the public, though police have described the charges as historical sexual assault offences.

Pell was archbishop of Melbourne before he progressed to archbishop of Sydney. He then moved to the Vatican as a prefect of the church’s economy ministry in 2014.