Saturday, 20 October, 2018

Vatican finance chief faces crucial hearing on abuse claims

Vatican’s Pell faces crucial hearing on sex abuse claims Cardinal George Pell Confronts Charges of 'Historical Sexual Offenses'
Andrew Cummings | 06 March, 2018, 01:52

Australia's most senior cleric Cardinal George Pell will today face an enormous media throng outside the Melbourne Magistrates' Court, for day one of a month-long committal hearing.

Pell's legal team successfully won its bid to raise undisclosed materials from a victims advocacy group, the Victorian police force, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and lawyers involved in the area of historic sexual abuse, as well as from the complainants themselves.

Since being charged in June 2017, the advisor to the Pontiff has taken leave from his position as Vatican treasurer.

Cardinal Pell strongly denies all the allegations against him, and his lawyer has already informed the court he will officially be pleading not guilty.

Mr Richter said he meant to cross-examine on those issues.

Apart from the first 25 minutes, most of Monday's hearing was closed to the public while the first accuser gave evidence.

Mr Richter also called for a report detailing how police should go about prosecuting prominent people to remain as part of the evidence.

"These documents are certainly relevant to the alleged offenses".

"I know it doesn't suit the prosecution because they are exculpatory of the cardinal, but they are still there and in possession of the police", he said.

Even if she decides the evidence is not sufficient to proceed, public prosecutors can still move to take Pell to trial.

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Magistrate Wallington said she thought the dog was an "excellent initiative" and noted that it is meant to provide support to "vulnerable and traumatised" people.

The former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop and Ballarat priest is the highest-ranking Catholic official to be charged with sexual abuse.

Pell has so far not been required to enter a plea.

Richter asked for Pell to have a support person as he gave evidence, saying it was "appropriate" given Pell's age and medical condition.

He has previously walked slowly into court for two hearings in July and October previous year alongside his barrister Robert Richter QC, one of the most expensive criminal silks in the country, rumoured to be commanding a fee of $16,000 a day.

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

One of the charges was withdrawn last week because the accuser had recently died. For Pell, the charges are a threat to his freedom, his reputation and his career.

After years of alleged coverups and silence from the church over its pedophilia scandal, abuse survivors and their advocates have hailed the prosecution of Pell as a monumental shift in the way society is responding to the crisis.

Pell had also previously served as archbishop of Melbourne and archbishop of Sydney before moving to Rome in 2014.

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