Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell has been ordered to stand trial on multiple historical sexual abuse charges in Australia, but several others were thrown out.

Melbourne magistrate Belinda Wallington said she was "satisfied" there was enough evidence for a conviction on several charges, but struck out a number of other alleged offences, among them some of the most serious.

He is the highest ranking Roman Catholic worldwide to face such charges.

The 76-year-old, who entered the court with a heavy police presence, denies the claims.

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

Until now, Cardinal Pell has not had to formally enter a plea, although he instructed his lawyer from the outset to make clear he intended to plead not guilty.

The former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop has been on leave from the Vatican, returning to Australia to fight the allegations which relate to incidents that allegedly occurred long ago.

He has regularly attended the court.

Pope Francis has said he will not comment on the case until it is over.

Cardinal Pell’s case has coincided with an Australian national inquiry into child sexual abuse, ordered in 2012 after a decade of pressure to investigate widespread allegations of institutional paedophilia.

The commission spoke to thousands of victims and heard claims of abuse involving churches, orphanages, sporting clubs, youth groups and schools.

Cardinal Pell appeared before it three times, once in person and twice via video-link from Rome, over the Church's handling of complaints against paedophile priests.

Australia's Catholic leaders have spoken out in support of him, describing Cardinal Pell as a "thoroughly decent man".