New Straits Times
Sexual abuse hearing for top Vatican official opens in Australia
MELBOURNE: A crucial hearing opened here yesterday to determine if one of Pope Francis’ top advisers, Cardinal George Pell, will stand trial on multiple historical sexual offence charges.
The 76-year-old, the most senior Catholic cleric to be charged with criminal offences linked to the Church’s long-running sexual abuse scandal, denied all the claims.
He had taken leave from his role as Vatican finance chief to fight the charges, which relate to incidents that allegedly occurred long ago. Their exact details and nature had not been made public, other than they involved “m u l t i p l e c o mplainants”.
Pell, in a beige jacket on top of a black shirt with a clerical collar, arrived by car and was escorted by dozens of police as he made his way up the steps and into the Melbourne magistrates court.
This was in contrast to his two previous appearances at preliminary hearings — in July and October — when he walked from his nearby lawyer’s office in chaotic scenes as he was mobbed by the media.
A small group of protesters and supporters, holding placards and signs, were outside the court.
“Go to hell, George Pell,” shouted Valda Ann Hogan, while a supporter said: “I know him and he is an innocent man, a good man, a holy man and we’re here to support him.”
Up to 50 witnesses could be called during the committal hearing, where they will give their accounts and be cross-examined by Pell’s legal team. The hearings are due to last four weeks. Magistrate Belinda Wallington will then decide if there is sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial.
The court was open to the media for 30 minutes before the hearing was adjourned until the afternoon when evidence from Pell’s accusers is due to begin via videolink in closed proceedings.
The brief session, during which Pell said nothing, dealt with procedural matters, including the formal withdrawal of one charge against the former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop after his accuser died.
His barrister Robert Richter also requested that someone be allowed to accompany Pell to court “in regard to the Cardinal’s age and medical condition”.
Pell was excused from giving evidence in person to a session of Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2016 due to a heart ailment.