The Herald Sun (Australia)
July 26, 2017 3:51am
CARDINAL George Pell has pledged to fight every charge in a sex crimes case that could run into 2019.
Amid scenes of chaos, the 76-year-old fronted Melbourne Magistrates’ Court for the first time on Wednesday since returning from the Vatican.
His lawyer, Robert Richter, QC, said: “For the avoidance of doubt, and because of the interest, might I indicate Cardinal Pell will plead not guilty to all the charges and will maintain his presumed innocence that he has.”
The hearing made history. Cardinal Pell is the most senior Catholic official to face court on sex offence charges.
Prosecutors told the court that the brief of evidence against the cardinal could be served next week.
But experts warn the case could run for two years, owing to the complexities of hearing historical sex charges and a potential application for separate trials on different allegations.
Details of the charges are yet to be revealed, and Wednesday’s minutes-long administrative hearing shed no further light on the allegations.
Despite that, international interest in the case was huge: media representatives flew in from across the globe.
The cardinal, who was not required to enter a plea, had been under no obligation to attend Wednesday’s hearing.
But he arrived at court shortly after 8.30am, and went through security checks.
In the courtroom, Cardinal Pell simply stared straight ahead for about 15 minutes as he awaited the magistrate, other than for a brief conversation with his lawyers about why a video feed was being beamed to a nearby court.
Court authorities had decided to open the extra room and show the hearing live, owing to the numbers who had turned up to witness it.
Some had arrived at court as early as 4am to ensure they had a seat in the courtroom.
As a result of that interest, magistrate Duncan Reynolds read a prepared statement outlining the hearing’s purely administrative nature.
Senior prosecutor Andrew Tinney, SC, also read a statement, stressing the need for “fair and accurate reporting”.
Prosecutors have until September 8 to prepare a brief of evidence. But Mr Tinney said it was likely the brief would be served by next week.
A committal mention date has been set for October 6.
After the hearing, Cardinal Pell was mobbed during the 100m walk to his lawyer’s offices. A dozen police formed a shield to protect him, amid a barrage of shouted questions and abuse, and yells of support.
One lady held a sign that read, “Thank you for helping my family”.
At one point police had to stop traffic on Lonsdale St.
Since the Herald Sun first revealed in February 2016 that Cardinal Pell was under investigation, he has persistently and vehemently denied any wrongdoing.
Last month, on being charged, he immediately took a leave of absence from his post as Vatican finance chief.
“I’m innocent of these charges. They are false. The whole idea of sex offences is abhorrent to me,” he said that day.
“News of these charges strengthens my resolve, and court proceedings now offer me an opportunity, to clear my name and then return to my work in Rome.
“I am looking forward finally to having my day in court,” he said.