ABC News Australia
Photo: Crowds outside Cardinal Pell’s committal hearing had eased by the end of the week. (ABC News: Danielle Bonica)
The police presence has diminished, the international media has dissolved and less than a handful of supporters and detractors occupy the steps of the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.
But despite appearances, it is the end of the first week of one of the most anticipated hearings of the year as Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic cleric fights historical sexual offence charges.
Cardinal George Pell’s committal hearing has sat for the past week, mainly behind a closed door.
The court was emptied of the media and public just 25 minutes after the hearing began last Monday to allow the multiple complainants to begin giving evidence.
It left Cardinal Pell, one of his friends, his legal team, prosecutors, the magistrate, her clerk and police informant to witness the alleged victims give their evidence and be cross-examined for the first time.
The complainants appeared via video link accompanied by a worker from the witness assistance program. They were offered the support of therapy dog Coop, trained especially to help alleged victims through the court process.
It is not known how many people have given evidence or are yet to come.
Just a few journalists remained outside the court’s closed door for the entirety of the week, catching only small snippets of information such as the hearing adjourning early for the day or not sitting the next because a witness was not available.
By the third day of the hearing, only two camera crews and a photographer were waiting outside to capture Cardinal Pell’s arrival and departure.
But the hordes of local and international media are expected to return in a week’s time when the complainants finish giving their evidence and the court reopens.
Up to 50 witnesses will be called during what’s expected to be a four-week hearing which is set to conclude on March 29.
Week one of George Pell’s hearing over
9 News 9news.com
Several people have given evidence against Cardinal George Pell during week one of a month-long hearing that will determine if he will stand trial over historical sex offence charges.
The 76-year-old returned to Melbourne Magistrates Court on Friday to resume a committal hearing after it was adjourned mid-week.
It’s understood the hearing was adjourned on Wednesday because a witness was not available.
Except for a short time when the hearing began on Monday, the court has been closed to media and the public while his accusers give evidence from a remote facility, as required by law in sexual offence matters.
The court will remain closed for week two as complainants continue to give evidence in the pre-trial hearing.
It’s expected the hearing will be open to the public and the media thereafter.
Up to 50 people will be called as witnesses during the committal stage.
At the end of the four-week hearing, magistrate Belinda Wallington will decide if Pell, who denies the charges, should stand trial.
He faces multiple historical sex offence charges involving multiple complainants.
Pell has taken leave from his position as Vatican treasurer to fight the charges.
Pell was charged on summons in June 2017 while he was in Rome, and returned to Australia to face court.
At the beginning of his hearing on Monday, defence barrister Robert Richter QC accused Victorian police of failing to follow guidelines for investigating prominent people because of a “presumption of guilt” against the cardinal.
Pell and his legal team will return to court on Tuesday.
© AAP 2018