Leroy N. Soetoro
2018-05-02 19:56:47 UTC
SYDNEY Cardinal George Pell was ordered by an Australian magistrate to
face trial over sexual abuse allegations, a decision that may make him the
most senior Roman Catholic prelate to be forced to defend himself in court
over a scandal that has swept through Catholic communities around the
After being told in a courtroom that he would face trial, Pell was asked
how he pleaded. Not guilty, the 76-year-old answered in a firm, loud
voice, according to reporters present.
Pell rose through the ranks of the church in Australia to become
archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney. Five years ago, he was appointed one
of eight cardinals by Pope Francis to work out how to overhaul the
administrative structures of the church, which are known as the Roman
curia. The following year he was placed in charge of the Vaticans
economic affairs. He has taken a leave of absence for the court case.
After a month-long pretrial hearing in which Pell was defended by one of
Australias top criminal lawyers, the magistrate, Belinda Wallington,
dismissed some of the more serious assault charges made against Pell by
the Victoria state police force.
She ruled that other charges would go ahead: that Pell groped two boys
genitals at a swimming pool in the regional city of Ballarat in the 1970s,
where he was born, and ordained in 1966; and assaulted two choristers at
Melbournes St. Patricks Cathedral when he was the citys archbishop in
Because the allegations concern offenses against children, most of the
details have been legally suppressed and the court was closed to the
public during part of the pretrial hearing.
Cardinal George Pell has at all times fully cooperated with Victoria
Police and always and steadfastly maintained his innocence, a statement
from his lawyers said. He has voluntarily returned to Australia to meet
these accusations. He will defend the remaining charges.
A conviction is far from certain. Pells lawyers are likely to seek to
undermine prosecution witnesses. The long time it took for the cases to
reach court could work in Pells favor by dimming the memory of those
called to give evidence.
These are very difficult matters for everyone involved and no one is
going to be popping champagne corks over this, Louise Milligan, an
investigative journalist and witness in the case whose reporting uncovered
some of Pells accusers, said in a telephone interview.
Pell has apologized for the pain inflicted upon the churchs victims, and
church officials say he became the first Catholic bishop, in 1996, to
institute a formal restitution program.
But his patrician manner and perceived lack of empathy toward victims
under his watch made Pell the focus of much anger in the disgruntled
A five-year national judicial inquiry into institutional sexual abuse that
concluded last year received more complaints about the Catholic Church
than any other organization. Ballarat was a hot spot of abuse: 140 people
told the inquiry they were abused there between 1980 and 2015.
Those who complained usually received a dismissive response. Church
leaders settled allegations in favor of the priests, or moved them to
another district where several were able to continue abusing children, the
This case study exposed a catastrophic failure in the leadership of the
Diocese and ultimately in the structure and culture of the Church over
decades to effectively respond to the sexual abuse of children by its
priests, the inquiry said last December.
During the pretrial hearing, Pells lawyer challenged the reliability of
witnesses memories and their psychological states. At one point, the
lawyer, Robert Richter, accused the magistrate of bias and asked her to
step down from the case. She declined.
On Tuesday, the hearings final day, the courtroom was packed with victim
advocates, Pells supporters and journalists. After the magistrate read
the judgment and left the room, there was clapping from the public section
of the court.
As Pell walked from the building on bail, through a phalanx of police
officers there to protect him, he was jeered.
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