Cardinal George Pell to stand trial on sexual abuse charges
Australian magistrate Belinda Wallington ruled today that there was enough evidence to proceed with a trial against George Pell, 76, Australia’s most senior Catholic and treasurer for the Vatican.
He was given a large police guard as he entered the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court in front of dozens of media representatives and members of the public.
The BBC reports that Pell formally pleaded not guilty to historic abuse charges. He has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
His lawyer, Robert Richter QC, argued that the most “vile” allegations against his client had been dismissed.
Pell, who is considered the Church’s third-ranked official, took a leave of absence from the Vatican last year to fight the charges in his home country.
Most of the evidence given remains confidential.
Last June, police in the state of Victoria charged the senior cleric with what they described as historical charges involving “multiple complainants”.
More than 30 witnesses testified during a preliminary court hearing, known as a committal, that ran for four weeks from March. Many sessions were closed to the public, which is standard practice in Victoria in sexual offence cases.
In open hearings, the court heard that an alleged incident took place at a Melbourne cathedral in the 1990s when the cleric was archbishop of Melbourne.
Another allegation related to a swimming pool in the city of Ballarat in the 1970s, when Cardinal Pell was a local priest, the court heard.
The cleric has consistently denied all accusations, saying last year:
I am innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.
Richter told a previous hearing that the allegations were “impossible”, describing the complainants as “unreliable”. He argued that Cardinal Pell had been targeted by accusers because of his role as Australia’s most senior Catholic figure, and that his client had fully co-operated with police.
Magistrate Wallington said about half of the charges had sufficient evidence to be warrant a trial.
An allegation that Cardinal Pell committed a sexual assault in a Ballarat cinema during a screening of Close Encounters of The Third Kind was among the charges that were dismissed.
In explaining that decision, Magistrate Wallington cited inconsistencies between the evidence of the accused and other witnesses, as well as timelines of when the film was screening. She said:
The evidence as a whole is not a sufficient weight for a jury to convict.
Pell’s trial will be held before a judge and a 12-person jury in the County Court of Victoria.
The court will hold an administrative hearing on Wednesday, but the trial is not expected to begin for several months.
Commenting on today’s hearing, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, said he had:
Confidence in the judicial system in Australia and said that justice must now take its course.
Hat tip: AgentCormac and BarrieJohn
• The picture used to illustrate this report was taken at an earlier court appearance on March 5.