17 April 2018, The Tablet

Cardinal Pell sex abuse hearing concludes: ruling expected 1 May

Pell’s barrister said the Cardinal was being punished for failing to prevent the abuse of children in Catholic institutions

Cardinal Pell sex abuse hearing concludes: ruling expected 1 May

Cardinal George Pell is to discover on 1 May whether he is to stand trial on multiple historical sexual abuse charges.

The 76-year-old Australian Cardinal, who has been on leave from his Vatican post as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy since charges against him were laid last June, was not required to appear in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on 17 April as final defence and prosecution submissions were made to Magistrate Belinda Wallington.

Cardinal Pell has consistently denied the charges. 

But the Cardinal is to return to court in two weeks, when Ms Wallington announces her decision after a four-week committal hearing that began on 5 March.

Cardinal Pell’s barrister Mr Robert Richter, QC, said the Cardinal, as the public face of the Church, was being punished for failing to prevent the abuse of young children in Catholic institutions.

Before his move to Rome in 2014, Cardinal Pell was Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996-2001 and then of Sydney from 2001-14. The specific charges against him have not been made public.

Mr Richter said the charges were the “stuff of fantasy” and should be thrown out.

Accusations against Cardinal Pell over alleged incidents in his home town of Ballarat, west of Melbourne, in the 1970s and at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s could not have happened, he said.

Mr Richter also criticised Victoria Police for establishing an investigation into Cardinal Pell before any complaints were made against him and attacked Australian Broadcasting Corporation journalist Louise Milligan for her book, 'Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell', accusing her of seeking fame and fortune.

Ms Milligan’s book was withdrawn from sale in Victoria when charges against the cardinal were laid.

Prosecutor Mark Gibson, SC, rejected Mr Richter’s claim that Cardinal Pell was being targeted because the Catholic Church had failed to stop sexual abuse was "nothing more than a theory".

He said the complainants had never resiled from their allegations against Cardinal Pell. There were conflicts in the evidence of various witnesses, but those differences were a matter for a jury to rule on, and were not what Mr Richter had referred to as "a defect in the evidence".

"It does not fundamentally impact on the reliability of the complainants' evidence," Mr Gibson said.

Ms Wallington said she believed a person should be committed to stand trial unless there was a "fundamental defect" in the evidence.

"I think issues of credibility and reliability are matters for a jury except where you get to a point where the credibility is effectively annihilated," she said.

Ms Wallington also said she was aware of British police moving from non-belief in the stories of those saying they had been abused to almost an “overcorrection" following the case of entertainer Jimmy Savile but added: "I have not seen anything in our state (of Victoria) which would indicate that that's the approach that's been taken."

PICTURE: Cardinal George Pell arrives at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, March 29, 2018. (AAP Image/Joe Castro)


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