George Pell is likely to face two trials and two juries, with his sexual assault charges set to be heard separately, but a date for his first trial is yet to be set.
Less than 24 hours after being committed to stand trial on half the historic sexual assault charges he faced, Cardinal Pell on Wednesday returned to court, but this time to appear before a County Court judge instead of a magistrate.
The 76-year-old moved slowly both as he arrived and left, despite the buzz of media around him, surrounded by police officers during his walks to and from a waiting car.
In court, he sat still and quietly during the short administrative hearing.
At one point after the hearing, outside the building, he turned his head towards a reporter who asked a question, but didn’t say a word.
Cardinal Pell has pleaded not guilty to multiple charges involving multiple complainants. Details of the charges are yet to be revealed.
During a 12-minute directions hearing on Wednesday before Judge Sue Pullen, prosecutor Mark Gibson, SC, and defence counsel Robert Richter, QC, agreed that the allegations against the cardinal should be split and heard in two trials.
Allegations that Cardinal Pell sexually assaulted multiple accusers in a Ballarat swimming pool in the 1970s are set to be heard in one trial, the court heard, and allegations he sexually assaulted an accuser in St Patrick’s Cathedral in the 1990s are set to be heard in the other.
‘‘They are of a completely different nature,’’ Mr Richter said of the respective allegations, ‘‘and separated by 20 years.’’
Judge Pullen said a trial date would likely be set at the next directions hearing on May 16, when it is expected prosecutors and the cardinal’s defence team will formally apply for separate trials.
Together, the two trials would run for up to 10 weeks, including pre-trial legal argument, Mr Gibson said.
He told Judge Pullen prosecutors could take up to three months to prepare for the trials, but Mr Richter said he wanted the first trial to start sooner rather than later.
He said his client’s age was a factor in wanting the trials to start soon, as was the age – 80 – and health of a key witness.
‘‘And everyone needs to get on with their lives,’’ Mr Richter said.
Judge Pullen said she wanted prosecutors to have their indictment ready soon.
‘‘You have got to move on this,’’ she told Mr Gibson.
During the administrative hearing, the judge asked Mr Richter if funding was in place to pay for Cardinal Pell’s legal costs.
‘‘No problems with funding, Your Honour,’’ he replied, but did not elaborate.
At the end of the hearing, Judge Pullen extended the cardinal’s bail for him to return to court in a fortnight.
‘‘Stand please, sir,’’ she told him, and closed the hearing. The cardinal was escorted to a waiting car by police outside the court building.
Cardinal Pell was on Tuesday committed to stand trial on half the charges he faced, following a month-long committal hearing before magistrate Belinda Wallington.
Ms Wallington directed him to stand trial on the allegations from the 1970s and 1990s, when he was respectively working as a priest in Ballarat and Archbishop of Melbourne.
The magistrate also struck out half the charges, related to allegations Cardinal Pell sexually assaulted an accuser in a Ballarat cinema and at other locations in the city in the 1970s, and in relation to another accuser who alleged sexual offending in a Ballarat swimming pool.
The cardinal had also denied those allegations.
The charges that were struck out were the more serious he faced.
Prosecutors earlier withdrew other charges.
Cardinal George Pell will likely face two separate trials over historical sexual offence allegations, with his defence barrister Robert Richter telling a Melbourne court this was necessary because the nature of the two sets of charges were “completely different” and occurred two decades apart.
Judge Sue Pullen presided over the brief directions hearing on Wednesday morning and prosecutors did not object to the separate trials for the treasurer of the Vatican in Rome.
One trial will relate to charges from incidents alleged to have occurred at a Ballarat swimming pool, while the second trial will relate to charges alleged to have occurred at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. Further details of the charges cannot be detailed for legal reasons.
While prosecutors initially said the two trials might take three months, Richter told the court this was “excessive”. He said Pell’s age, 76, combined with the age of one of the complainants should lead the court to expedite the case.
“Everyone needs to get on with their lives,” Richter said. Complainants will be permitted to give their evidence via video link.
Ultimately both prosecutors and defence lawyers agreed that the entire trial would take between eight and 10 weeks, with the cathedral matter expected to take the longest and run for at least five weeks. No dates for the trials have been set and a further directions hearing will be held in Melbourne’s county court on 16 May.
The trials follow a decision handed down by magistrate Belinda Wallington in Melbourne’s magistrates court on Tuesday that Pell would stand trial over half of the charges prosecutors made against him. The remaining charges were thrown out by Wallington, who said that some of the witnesses lacked credibility, and that some of the most serious charges could not have possibly occurred in the timeframe alleged in the timeframe described by one of the complainants. Wallington’s judgment followed a committal hearing that ran for roughly four weeks to decide whether there was enough evidence to order Pell to stand trial.
When Pell arrived at the county court on Wednesday, he was surrounded by police. The directions hearing lasted just over 10 minutes, with many people forced to stand in the packed courtroom.
Pell has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges. Under his bail conditions, he is unable to leave the country.
Cardinal George Pell to face two trials on historical abuse charges
Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell will face two trials on charges of historical sexual abuse, a judge at the County Court of Victoria ruled Wednesday.
The 76-year-old cardinal arrived at the Melbourne court less than 24 hours after a magistrate ruled the case should proceed to a trial by jury at a higher court.
Pell is the most senior figure in the Catholic Church to face criminal charges for alleged assault. He has pleaded not guilty.
One trial will focus on claims of historical sexual abuse spanning three decades and include events that allegedly took place at a swimming pool in rural Victoria in the 1970s. Another trial will deal with allegations of abuse at St. Patrick’s Cathedral during Pell’s time as archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.
A hearing to set trial dates is scheduled for May 16. Pell was released on bail.
Pell’s barrister, Robert Richter, told the court he hoped the trials would take place as soon as possible. He said, “That’s for various reasons … my client is 76 years old and, number two, everyone needs to get on with their lives.”
Richter told the judge it was important to separate the two trials as the allegations spanned 20 years. He said one of the witnesses is 80 years old and in poor health. Richter told the court his team would seek to get court subpoenas to attain the medical records of Pell’s accusers.
He asked that Pell not be compelled to be at the next hearing, but Judge Susan Pullen denied the lawyer’s request.
At the end of the hearing, the judge asked the cardinal, who was in front row of seats in the small courtroom, to stand.
When told he was out on bail, Pell replied, “Thanks, your honor.”
Some charges dropped
Melbourne Magistrate Belinda Wallington delivered her decision Tuesday morning after a monthlong committal hearing in March that heard evidence from many witnesses.
Wallington dropped half the charges but found there was enough evidence to commit Pell, one of the country’s most senior Catholic figures, to trial on multiple counts.
Pell didn’t show any emotion as the decision was announced. When asked to enter a plea, the cardinal said in a loud, clear voice, “Not guilty.”
At the end of the hearing, the prosecution confirmed Pell had already handed in his passport and he was not allowed to leave the country.
Tuesday’s decision to send Pell’s case to trial is a blow to an already embattled Catholic Church, which has been fighting allegations of abuse among its clergy for decades.
Thousands of cases brought to light around the world have led to investigations and convictions in countries including the United States, Canada, Ireland and Australia.
In a statement released Tuesday, Pell’s legal team said its client “steadfastly” maintained his innocence. “He will defend the remaining charges. He would like to thank all those who have supported him from both here in Australia and overseas during this exacting time,” the statement said.
The Vatican stood by Pell in a statement, saying it had “taken note” of the court’s decision. “Last year, the Holy Father granted Cardinal Pell a leave of absence so he could defend himself from the accusations. The leave of absence is still in place,” the statement said.
From rural Australia to the Vatican
Pell’s ascent was a source of pride for many Catholic Australians, as he quickly rose from a rural parish priest to the highest offices of the Vatican.
In 1996, 30 years after he was first ordained as a priest, Pell was made archbishop of Melbourne by Pope John Paul II. Less than a decade later, Pell was appointed as archbishop of Sydney in 2001 and then made a cardinal in 2003.
But his greatest honor came in 2014 when he was handpicked by Pope Francis to become one of only nine advisers on the Council of Cardinals to the head of the Catholic Church.
In December 2017, a Royal Commission in Australia made recommendations that the Vatican should move to change ancient canon laws in order to reduce future risk of sexual abuse.
The recommendations included making celibacy voluntary for priests and making mandatory reporting of abuse to police if an admission is made during confession.
Cardinal Pell likely to face two trials, court hears
Cardinal George Pell is expected to face two trials on sexual assault charges, an Australian court has heard.
The Vatican treasurer, 76, has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and has strenuously denied any wrongdoing.
On Tuesday, a magistrate ordered him to stand trial. The allegations relate to the 1970s and 1990s, a court heard.
Cardinal Pell appeared at the County Court of Victoria on Wednesday, where prosecution and defence teams asked for the case to be split across two trials.
If a judge agrees, separate juries would hear allegations against Cardinal Pell about his time as a priest in Ballarat in the 1970s, and charges relating to when he was archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.
Much of the evidence given at a previous hearing was not open to the public, and remains confidential.
Cardinal Pell is Australia’s most senior Catholic and one of the most powerful officials in the Vatican.
Speedy process urged
On Wednesday, Judge Susan Pullen said a trial date was expected to be set during an administrative hearing on 16 May.
The cardinal’s lawyer, Robert Richter QC, argued for matters to proceed quickly because “my client is 76 years old [and] everyone needs to get on with their lives”.
He also said one “critical witness” was now aged in his 80s, and that health was “important” for other witnesses.
The court heard that one trial could examine charges relating to a swimming pool in Ballarat, while the other could hear of an alleged incident at Melbourne St Patrick’s Cathedral.
“They are of a completely different nature… and separated by 20 years,” Mr Richter told the court, Fairfax Media reported.
The proposed trial arrangements would run for a total period of 10 weeks, the court heard.
Last June, Cardinal Pell was charged in the state of Victoria with allegations involving “multiple complainants”.
Following a month-long preliminary hearing, a magistrate ruled that there was enough evidence for some charges to proceed to a jury.
However, half of the original charges were struck out on the basis of insufficient evidence and doubt over the reliability of testimony.
Cardinal Pell has strongly denied all accusations, saying last year: “I am innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”
The cleric has taken a leave of absence from the Vatican to fight the charges in his home country.
In a brief statement on Tuesday, the Holy See said it had “taken note of the decision issued by judicial authorities in Australia”.
“Last year, the Holy Father granted Cardinal Pell a leave of absence so he could defend himself from the accusations. The leave of absence is still in place,” the statement said.
01 May 2018
Vatican News (vaticannews.va)
Press Office: Statement on Cardinal George Pell
The Holy See releases a press statement after the Australian court orders Cardinal George Pell to stand trial.
The Holy See on Tuesday released the following statement regarding Cardinal George Pell.
Holy See’s Statement
“The Holy See has taken note of the decision issued by judicial authorities in Australia regarding His Eminence Cardinal George Pell. Last year, the Holy Father granted Cardinal Pell a leave of absence so he could defend himself from the accusations. The leave of absence is still in place.”
Cardinal George Pell appeared in an Australian court on Tuesday and entered a not guilty plea to the criminal charges against him. At the conclusion of preliminary hearings, a Melbourne magistrate dismissed some of the charges against Cardinal Pell, but decided that others warrant a jury trial. Trial proceedings will begin on Wednesday in Victoria State County Court.