Australia’s most senior Catholic has said he will plead not guilty to all charges
Tue 1 May 2018 03.14 BST
Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic and the controller of the Vatican’s finances in Rome, has pleaded not guilty after he was ordered to stand trial over historical sexual offence allegations.
Pell has always denied the allegations against him, but it was the first time he had been required to enter a formal plea.
Many of the most serious allegations were dismissed in the Melbourne magistrates’ court on Tuesday, with witnesses described as unreliable and lacking credibility. But a number of charges were ordered to go to trial.
Magistrate Belinda Wallington handed down the decision following a committal hearing that lasted almost a month throughout March and April. Pell was surrounded by police as he was quickly ushered into the court just before 9.30am, and was met by a small crowd of supporters and opponents.
Wallington told the court that if the evidence was not of sufficient weight to support a conviction, an allegation must be discharged. If the credibility of a witness was destroyed during a committal, their allegation could not go to trial, she said. Cases so weak a jury could not possibly convict a defendant had to be thrown out.
A number of charges had been withdrawn during the committal hearing. Wallington found it was impossible that a further group of charges relating to one complainant could be sustained. The offences were alleged to have occurred over 12 months and the complainant alleged he was removed from the St Joseph’s boys home and from his dorm, and taken to the locations where he alleged the offences occurred.
But Wallington found the series of offences could not have occurred in the period alleged by the complainant, from late September 1978, because records showed the complainant did not live at the home during this time. His foster mother also gave evidence the complainant did not live in the boys home during that time.
“He [the complainant] could not reconcile the differences,” Wallington said. “In this case the inconsistencies must be examined as a fundamental defect in evidence.” She said this had damaged the complainant’s reliability. “I find [his] evidence as a whole is not of sufficient weight for a jury to convict,” she said.
A further allegation made by a separate complainant was also thrown out by Wallington. The complainant had a “cavalier attitude” towards the court, Wallington found, and sometimes cited a lack of recall to avoid answering questions.
“It is difficult to see how a jury can convict on the evidence of a man who cannot recall what he said one minute ago,” Wallington said, even when considering the trauma of giving evidence. “I am not satisfied the evidence is of sufficient weight to support a conviction.”
But she was satisfied a jury could potentially convict Pell based on the evidence from a separate complainant who alleged Pell offended against him. Allegations made by two other complainants relating to alleged offences at the same location were also ordered to go to trial. A further related charge was withdrawn.
A group of charges related to alleged offences that occurred against two complainants between July 1996 and December 1997. Wallington committed Pell to trial on all but one of those charges. The nature of those allegations cannot be detailed for legal reasons.
Pell’s defence team said one group of charges was “substantially different” to another group, and indicated they might push for separate trials as a result.
Throughout the committal Pell sat each day in courtroom 22 in the same seat, head bowed, sometimes taking notes, always dressed in the same outfit: black pants, black shirt and a beige jacket. The first days of the committal hearing, which began on 5 March, were closed to the media and the public while complainants gave evidence – a standard procedure for cases involving sexual offence allegations. Further details of the charges were unable to be reported for legal reasons.
When the hearing was reopened to the media and the public, Pell’s defence lawyer, Robert Richter, cross-examined former choir boys and staff of St Patrick’s cathedral in Melbourne, senior police officers, family members of the complainants and staff from other venues where offences were alleged to have occurred. Pell’s defence team argued that the evidence was uncorroborated and unreliable, and that police had sometimes failed to properly take notes.
Wallington ordered those who had previously given evidence or who might be required to give evidence in a trial to leave the court before she handed down her decision. A date for the trial is yet to be set. A directions hearing will be held on Wednesday to go over a number of administrative matters.
Cardinal George Pell pleads not guilty to historical sexual offence charges after being committed to stand trial
ABC News Australia
01 May 2018
Cardinal George Pell has been committed to stand trial on multiple historical sexual offences but the most serious of the charges have been struck out.
Magistrate Belinda Wallington has ruled there is enough evidence to commit Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric to stand trial on about half of the offences he was charged with.
Cardinal Pell has pleaded not guilty and strenuously denies the allegations.
A number of onlookers applauded as the magistrate left the court room after delivering her 70-minute ruling.
Defence barrister Robert Richter QC said the most “vile” of the charges had been dismissed.
Cardinal Pell will stand trial on charges relating to alleged sexual offending at a pool in Ballarat in the 1970s and at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in the 1990s when he was Archbishop of Melbourne.
Among the charges that were dismissed were allegations Cardinal Pell committed sexual offences at a cinema and chapel in the regional Victorian city of Ballarat in the 1970s, when he was a priest in that area.
In throwing out one charge, Ms Wallington said the complainant involved demonstrated such a “cavalier attitude” to giving evidence that a jury couldn’t put any weight on it.
And she ruled inconsistencies in one of the complainant’s evidence had to be examined in the context of a “fundamental defect in the evidence”.
“The evidence as a whole is not a sufficient weight for a jury to convict,” she said.
Cardinal Pell will face a directions hearing in the County Court tomorrow morning, when it is expected a date will be set for a trial before a jury.
He is on bail and has already handed in his passport, the court heard.
He is unable to leave Australia as a condition of his bail.
Today’s ruling follows a month-long committal hearing in March.
The first 10 days of the hearing were closed to the public and media as the complainants gave their evidence, which is standard practice in cases involving sexual offence charges.
Their evidence remains confidential.
A number of the charges were also dropped before today’s hearing, due to the death of one of the complainants and another being found medically unfit to give evidence.
Ms Wallington took a fortnight to consider her decision on whether to commit Cardinal Pell to stand trial.
The Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, declined to make any comment on the decision.
“Archbishop Hart expressed his confidence in the judicial system in Australia and said that justice must now take its course,” the Archdiocese of Melbourne said in a statement.