ABC News Australia
17 April 2018
Cardinal George Pell may have become the target of false sexual offence allegations to punish him for not having prevented the sexual abuse of children, his defence barrister has told a court.
Robert Richter QC has described complaints made against Cardinal Pell as “impossible” and the complainants behind them as “unreliable” as he tried to persuade a magistrate not to commit Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric to stand trial.
Instead, Mr Richter told the hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates Court that all the charges faced by the 76-year-old should be thrown out.
“Whether the allegations are the product of fantasy, the product of some mental problems … or just pure invention in order to punish the representative of the Catholic Church in this country for not stopping abuse by others of children,” he said.
Mr Richter said some of the complainants had been sexually abused by other priests who had since died, therefore offering them no recourse.
“Cardinal Pell representing the face of the Catholic Church … had been the obvious target of allegations that are not true, but are designed to punish him for not having prevented sexual abuse of young children,” he said.
The comments were later rejected by prosecutor Mark Gibson SC as a “theory and … nothing more than a theory”.
The court heard the most serious allegations made against Cardinal Pell related to alleged sexual offending in Ballarat in the 1970s and at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s.
Mr Richter told the magistrate their complaints were “impossible” and “ought to be discharged without batting an eyelid”.
He said the balance of the charges should also be thrown out.
“The complainants are unreliable, the complainants have made prior statements that are inconsistent or subsequent statements that are inconsistent,” Mr Richter said.
“Their credibility has been damaged to a point where … that shot is not worth the powder of proceeding to a charge or proceeding to a trial.”
Conflicting evidence ‘not a defect’
Magistrate Belinda 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.
Mr Richter agreed and contended that some of the complainants just could not be believed.
He also hit out at the police investigation, again criticising Victoria Police for establishing an operation to investigate Cardinal Pell before any complaints had been made against him.
Mr Richter argued that detectives had not properly investigated the allegations and instead acted under the “current political correctness in attitudes” which meant victims were always believed without their account being tested.
“There is simply no supporting evidence for these allegations,” he said.
“Multiplying unreliable witnesses does not lead to a conclusion that there is a strong and probable cause to commit.”
But Mr Gibson SC said none of the complainants resiled from their allegations.
He said conflicting evidence did not amount to a “defect in the evidence”.
“It does not fundamentally impact on the reliability of the complainants’ evidence,” Mr Gibson said.
‘Damning character assassination’
Cardinal Pell took leave from his position at the Vatican to return to Australia to fight the charges last year.
Mr Richter said he returned voluntarily instead of claiming diplomatic immunity and fighting extradition.
“He has given a full and complete account when asked questions, he may have overlooked things, he may have forgotten things … he is consistent and he is adamant that none of these instances took place,” he said.
Mr Richter also took aim at ABC journalist Louise Milligan for what he described as the “disgraceful publication” of her book detailing allegations made against Cardinal Pell.
He said the book was a “damning character assassination” which had damaged Cardinal Pell’s prospect of a fair trial and should be taken into account when deciding whether to commit him on “trifling charges”.
Ms Wallington will hand down her decision on whether to commit Cardinal Pell to stand trial on May 1.
Cardinal George Pell targeted to punish Catholic church, defence lawyer says
Robert Richter says historic sexual abuse allegations against Pell invented by ‘thwarted’ people to punish the church
Tue 17 Apr 2018 04.46 BST
Cardinal George Pell has been targeted with historic sexual abuse allegations in an attempt to punish the Catholic church for its failure to prevent other instances of child sexual abuse, his lawyer has argued.
Pell, 76, has been charged with multiple historic sexual offences. He has vehemently denied the charges. Further description of the charges against Pell cannot be given for legal reasons.
On the final day of a four-week committal hearing at the Melbourne magistrates’ court on Tuesday, the head of Pell’s defence team, Robert Richter QC, suggested the most serious complaints against him had been invented by “thwarted” people to punish the church.
Both the defence and the prosecution have made extensive written submissions but also oral closing statements. Pell was not required to attend and was not in court.
Richter said it was unclear “whether the allegations are the product of fantasy, the product of some mental problems that the complainant may have been having, or just some invention in attempt to punish the representative of the Catholic church in this country for not stopping other abuse that has occurred”.
Richter said everyone in Australia knew Pell had been “the face” of the Catholic church’s response to allegations of sexual abuse occurring within its institutions, and the barrister suggested that had made Pell a target.
“We say that Cardinal Pell representing the Catholic church … had been the obvious target of such allegations,” Richter said, adding that the charges were “not true”.
He also argued reporting by journalist Louise Milligan, which included a story on the ABC’s 7.30 in 2016 and a book published in 2017, “created the kind of public furore and public moment” that triggered complainants to come forward. Richter argued Milligan herself was “out for fame and fortune”.
Richter attacked the credibility of the complainants, saying inconsistencies around matters such as the dates of alleged incidents mean they are “not to be believed”, and said the allegations as described ranged from “trifling” to “improbable, if not impossible”.
He said the matter should not be committed to trial because the evidence was not “of sufficient weight to support a conviction”.
Magistrate Belinda Wallington said the reliability or otherwise of complainants and witnesses was a matter to be determined by a jury at trial, except where a committal hearing has shown that their credibility is “annihilated”.
Richter replied: “Or close enough to annihilation to say that it would be a waste of public time, effort and money to put the man on trial.”
He suggested the allegations against Pell were not properly investigated because of a “politically correct” change that meant statements from people making allegations of sexual assault were taken “as gospel”.
“It should be difficult,” Richter said. “People talk about how people get acquitted, too many people get acquitted. What we say is that it should be difficult to destroy and lock up a citizen unless it has been investigated and there is sufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Wallington said she was aware there had been an “overcorrection” by British police in response to decades of disbelieving complainants against entertainer and sex offender Jimmy Savile, but said she has not “seen anything in our state to indicate that that’s the position that has been taken”.
She said Richter was taking some arguments “too far”, including musings on legislative changes around the prosecution of sexual assault allegations and an argument that Pell should be taken to be innocent because he did not claim diplomatic immunity to remain in the Vatican rather than returning to face charges.
Prosecutor Mark Gibson SC said “nothing … that has been put by the defence amounts to a defect in the evidence”.
Gibson said Richter’s suggestion that complainants were motivated by a need to seek revenge against the Catholic church was “nothing more than a theory” that had been rejected by at least one complainant and should be ignored by the magistrate. He said the complainants had not resiled from their statements.
Wallington said she would hand down her decision on whether to commit the matter to trial on 1 May.
Allegations of sexual abuse against George Pell were the stuff of fantasy, impossible and made by witnesses with no credibility, the cardinal’s lawyer has told a court as he sought to have charges against Australia’s most senior Catholic thrown out.
Defence counsel Robert Richter, QC, on Tuesday urged magistrate Belinda Wallington to discharge Cardinal Pell of multiple historic sexual abuse charges rather than commit him to stand trial, because, he said, there was no way a jury could find the charges proven.
Cardinal Pell must now wait a fortnight before learning whether he will front a jury in a higher court, as Ms Wallington takes time to consider written and oral submissions from the 76-year-old’s defence team and prosecutors. Ms Wallington will announce her decision on May 1.
Rocking gently from side to side over almost two hours at the lectern in Melbourne Magistrates Court, Mr Richter expanded on a series of points as to why his client should not be sent to trial, focusing mainly on what he said were major flaws in the evidence of two accusers.
Most of Cardinal Pell’s charges relate to the two accusers, the court heard, but Mr Richter said it was impossible their respective allegations – of sexual offending in Ballarat in the 1970s and at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in the 1990s – actually happened, because of timelines and geographic layouts.
Mr Richter said someone would have noticed offending in a Ballarat cinema during a screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and that at the time of subsequent alleged offending, the Cardinal had nothing to do with the complainant.
“He is just not a person who can be believed by a jury,” Mr Richter said of the accuser.
The offending alleged to have occurred in St Patrick’s Cathedral was not possible, Mr Richter said, because of the improbability the then Archbishop Pell would have abused someone while he was dressed in robes after mass and in a hallway full of other people and away from his assistant.
That accuser’s motives in accusing Cardinal Pell, Mr Richter said, were based on “the stuff of fantasy, mental-health problems or just pure invention” designed to punish a representative of the Catholic Church given its history of sexual offending and cover-ups.
Cardinal Pell, who was excused from attending court on Tuesday, faces multiple historical sexual offence charges involving multiple complainants. Details of the charges are yet to be revealed. He has repeatedly denied the allegations.
Mr Richter said if Ms Wallington dismissed the more serious allegations, there was little justification for public money, time and effort being spent in Cardinal Pell standing trial on the other charges.
The cardinal, his lawyer said, had consistently denied the offending and remained an innocent man despite attempts to “destroy someone’s reputation and have them locked up”.
But prosecutor Mark Gibson, SC, said the complainants had never resiled from their allegations against Cardinal Pell.
He said there were conflicts in the evidence of various witnesses, but those differences were a matter for a jury to rule on, as nothing Mr Richter referred to “amounts to a defect in the evidence”.
During his submission, Mr Richter criticised police for not interviewing key witnesses who provided evidence that was favourable towards Cardinal Pell.
He also slammed ABC journalist Louise Milligan for her book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, which he described as a “damning character assassination” that was last year published earlier than initially intended because charges against the cardinal were imminent.
“She was out for fame and fortune,” Mr Richter said of the journalist. Ms Milligan’s book was withdrawn from Victorian stores once Cardinal Pell was charged.
Ms Milligan was one of more than 30 witnesses who gave evidence during the four-week committal hearing last month.
Cardinal Pell is only required to formally enter a plea of not guilty if he is committed to stand trial.
If Ms Wallington rules there is insufficient evidence to commit, the Director of Public Prosecutions has the right to review her decision and send an accused person to trial. However, the practice of “directly presenting” someone to trial is rarely used.