Cardinal George Pell to stand trial on historical sex assault charges
By Adam Cooper & Tom Cowie
May 1, 2018
|Cardinal George Pell has been committed to stand trial on multiple charges related to historical sexual assault.|
Photo by Jason South
|George Pell arrives at Melbourne Magistrates Court on Tuesday.|
Photo by Jason South
George Pell will be the most senior Catholic leader to face a jury after being committed to stand trial on multiple historic sexual assault charges.
In a decision that will ring loud through the Vatican and around the religious world, Australia's most senior Catholic and the man who a year ago oversaw management of the Vatican's finances was on Tuesday committed to stand trial on half the charges he faced, involving multiple accusers.
However, magistrate Belinda Wallington struck out a series of serious charges at the start of her ruling, finding there was insufficient evidence for him to be convicted by a jury.
Ms Wallington committed the 76-year-old on charges against multiple complainants, involving alleged sexual offending at a swimming pool in the 1970s in Ballarat, where the accused man was then working as a priest; and at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in 1990s, when he was the then Archbishop of Melbourne.
Asked to enter a plea, Cardinal Pell said in a loud, clear voice: "Not guilty."
Ms Wallington took more than an hour to read through her decisions on the respective sets of charges, and the first ruling she made was to strike out the most serious of allegations. They involved alleged offending at a Ballarat cinema during a screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and allegations of other offending throughout Ballarat over the following year.
Ms Wallington said inconsistencies in the evidence of the complainant who claimed he was sexually assaulted in the cinema and throughout Ballarat, and the timelines of when the movie was screened, combined with the accounts of family members, meant there was insufficient evidence for him to stand trial.
She also struck out one charge related to alleged offending at the swimming pool, because the complainant was an "unsatisfactory witness".
But the magistrate ruled the evidence of the other accusers was credible enough to be believed by a jury, that there was no evidence they had colluded in what they told police, and that their allegations were not contaminated by media reports, most notably a television interview on the ABC's 7.30 program.
Cardinal Pell did not react when Ms Wallington dismissed the first set of charges, having heard a four-week committal hearing, including the evidence of his accusers, in March.
When told he had been committed to stand trial on the first charge Cardinal Pell did not change expression apart from a small glance at the ground. He then brought his hand to his mouth and coughed.
There was no noticeable reaction throughout the court, other than the tapping of keyboards and iPads by reporters, who occupied most of the seats. Cardinal Pell's supporters and advocates for sexual abuse survivors were also in the room.
Cardinal Pell has long denied the allegations.
Some charges were earlier withdrawn by prosecutors.
Cardinal Pell had his bail extended and is due to appear in the County Court on Wednesday, when a judge will set a date for his trial.
Robert Richter, QC, the head of the defence team, flagged on Tuesday an application for his client to appear in separate trials given the differences in the allegations. A decision on holding one or more trials will be made by a County Court judge.
After Ms Wallington left the bench, a group of people at the back of the court room clapped.
Flanked by up to 40 police officers, Cardinal Pell had arrived at the court in a white sedan just after 9am. He wore a dark coloured suit and white shirt and clerical collar.
The police separated the cardinal’s path from the public as protesters arrived with laminated signs reading “every child deserves a safe and happy childhood”.
Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart released a statement saying he declined to make any comment about the decision to commit Cardinal Pell to face trial in the County Court.
Archbishop Hart expressed his confidence in the judicial system in Australia and said that justice must now take its course.
Cardinal Pell left the court building at 11.55am, and was jeered by people outside the building as he got in a white car and was driven away. A wall of police officers stood on the bottom two steps of the court building to ensure he was not surrounded by media.
His lawyers, Galbally & O'Bryan, released a statement about 12.45pm.
"Cardinal George Pell has at all times fully co-operated with Victoria Police and always and steadfastly maintained his innocence. He has voluntarily returned to Australia to meet those accusations," the statement read.
"He will defend the remaining charges.
"He would like to thank all of those who have supported him from both here in Australia and overseas during this exacting time and is grateful for their continued support and prayers."