Vatican treasurer in Australian court for hearing on sex offence charges

Cardinal George Pell stepped aside from his role as Vatican treasurer last June to fight multiple allegations of sexual abuse. His lawyers have said he will plead not guilty to all charges

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.

The courtroom at the Melbourne magistrate's' court was filled mostly with reporters, and an overflow room was opened to accommodate reporters and members of the public.

The court is expected to be closed to the media and the public for up to two weeks while complainants give evidence, which is standard in sexual offence committal hearings in Victoria. He is not required to enter a formal plea until a magistrate determines if prosecutors have enough evidence for a case to be committed to a full trial.

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

The complainants will give evidence from a remote witness facility, accompanied by a support person and, if they wish, a three-year-old labrador support dog called Coop.

Cardinal Pell's defence barrister, Robert Richter QC, opposed an application for part of the police brief of evidence against his client to be removed, saying about 21 witness statements that could possibly clear Cardinal Pell had been supplied to the police that were not investigated properly.

The trial is the first time such a senior figure in the Holy See has faced criminal charges.

Professor Jeremy Gans, who specialises in criminal law at Melbourne University, agrees with the use of a video-link to help reduce the stress on the complainants.

"Richter is very good at what he does and delves into the tiniest details".


"A committal hearing has a similar goal to a Grand Jury hearing in the US", Gans explained.

Pell's lawyers told the court last month that the allegations stemmed from publicity surrounding a national inquiry into child abuse three years ago.

Pell was charged with sexual assault in June 2017 following an investigation by Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

Prosecutor Mark Gibson SC said a number of the historical sexual offence charges also needed to be amended to adjust dates and wording.

One of the charges was withdrawn on Friday, reportedly because the accuser died.

No other details can be reported for legal reasons. Pell said he intends to continue his work as a prefect of the church's economy ministry once the case is resolved. Pell is on leave of absence from the Vatican and is planning to plead not guilty. "The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me".

For Francis, they are a threat to his credibility, given that he famously promised a "zero tolerance" policy for sex abuse in the church.

The Catholic Church was the sole target of about 20 recommendations, outlining what would amount to be a radical shakeup of centuries of tradition and orthodoxy.

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