Car­di­nal Pell de­nies abuse charges in Aus­tralian court

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Vat­i­can fi­nance chief Car­di­nal Ge­orge Pell, a top ad­vi­sor to Pope Fran­cis, de­nied all charges of his­tor­i­cal sex­ual abuse yes­ter­day at his first ap­pear­ance in an Aus­tralian court over the al­le­ga­tions. The 76-year-old, the num­ber-three fig­ure in the Vat­i­can, re­turned from Rome ear­lier this month to face the charges in Mel­bourne Mag­is­trates Court.

De­tails of the charges have not been made public al­though po­lice said they in­volved “mul­ti­ple com­plainants”. The for­mer Syd­ney and Mel­bourne arch­bishop has al­ways main­tained his in­no­cence. Look­ing somber and frail, he at­tended the hear­ing with his lawyer, top crim­i­nal bar­ris­ter Robert Richter, who told the court his client was not guilty — even though a for­mal plea was not re­quired at this stage.

“For the avoid­ance of doubt and be­cause of the in­ter­est, I might in­di­cate that Car­di­nal Pell pleads not guilty to all charges and will main­tain the pre­sumed in­no­cence that he has,” Richter told the court, na­tional broad­caster ABC re­ported. Pell, dressed in black and wear­ing his cler­i­cal col­lar, re­mained silent through­out with mag­is­trate Dun­can Reynolds rul­ing that ev­i­dence needs to be handed to his le­gal team by Septem­ber 8, with the next court date set for Oc­to­ber 6.

The cleric made no com­ment as he was es­corted by a group of po­lice through a crush of cam­eras, re­porters and pho­tog­ra­phers into the court, which hears hun­dreds of cases a week for al­leged crimes rang­ing from theft to mur­der. Sev­eral pho­tog­ra­phers were knocked over in the melee. Sim­i­lar scenes greeted his de­par­ture af­ter the brief hear­ing as he was ush­ered around 100 me­ters down the road to his lawyer’s of­fices sur­rounded by se­cu­rity, with a hand­ful of sup­port­ers shout­ing “this is a show trial” and “in­no­cent” as he walked past. Pro­test­ers were also on hand, with one, Brian Cher­rie, telling the Mel­bourne Herald Sun: “We need the truth.”

Rocked the church

Pell was not re­quired to at­tend the hear­ing, but Aus­tralia’s most pow­er­ful Catholic opted to ap­pear, hav­ing pre­vi­ously vowed to de­fend him­self and clear his name af­ter a two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion led to him be­ing charged on June 29. “I am in­no­cent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sex­ual abuse is ab­hor­rent to me,” he said in Rome last month, claim­ing he had been the vic­tim of a cam­paign of “re­lent­less char­ac­ter as­sas­si­na­tion”. Aus­tralia’s Catholic lead­ers have spo­ken out in sup­port, de­scrib­ing Pell as a “thor­oughly de­cent man”.

The Arch­dio­cese of Syd­ney is pro­vid­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion for him while he fights the charges, but it has said it will not foot his le­gal bills, which could run into the hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars. Sup­port­ers have set up a fund to help him pay the costs, ac­cord­ing to the In­sti­tute of Public Af­fairs, a high-pro­file con­ser­va­tive Aus­tralian think tank.

De­spite be­ing un­of­fi­cially con­sid­ered the third most pow­er­ful cleric in the Vat­i­can, no spe­cial ar­range­ments were in place at the court. Pell en­tered the build­ing through the front door and was screened by se­cu­rity. He has been granted a leave of ab­sence by the Pope, who has made clear the car­di­nal would not be forced to re­sign his post as head of the Vat­i­can’s pow­er­ful eco­nomic min­istry. — AFP

MEL­BOURNE: A pro­tes­tor holds a plac­ard be­fore Vat­i­can fi­nance chief Car­di­nal Ge­orge Pell (not pic­tured) ar­rives for a hear­ing at the Mel­bourne Mag­is­trates Court. — AFP

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