Vatican treasurer faces historical sexual offences trial — Cardinal George Pell

Vatican treasurer faces historical sexual offences trial — Cardinal George Pell

More than an hour of calm, measured reading later, Ms Wallington committed Cardinal Pell to stand trial on half the charges he faced, and struck out the other half.

Cardinal Pell, Pope Francis's former finance minister, was charged last June with sexually abusing multiple people in his Australian home state of Victoria.

When asked how he pleaded, Pell told the court: "Not guilty".

The 76-year-old Cardinal Pell, head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, took a leave of absence from his position in the summer of 2017 to face the charges.

Pell has always denied the allegations against him, but it was the first time he had been required to enter a formal plea.

Pope Francis granted Cardinal Pell time to fight his case, but won't get his treasurer back until late this year at the earliest, as the cardinal can not leave Australia as part of his bail.

Cardinal George Pell, 76, who took leave from the Vatican previous year to defend himself, attended a packed Melbourne courtroom this morning to hear a magistrate rule that there was enough evidence to commit him to trial. 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. Authorities have not released the details of the allegations against Pell or the names of the alleged victims.

Magistrate Belinda Wallington said she was "satisfied" that there was enough evidence in "multiple" cases against Pell to go to trial. His bail was extended and was ordered to appear in County Court on Wednesday to set a date for his trial.

But Pell's lawyer, Robert Richter, wrapped up four weeks of questioning accusers and witnesses by arguing there was no evidence to support the charges against his client.

During the pre-trial hearing, Pell's defence raised questions about police procedure, the reliability of witnesses' memories and their psychological condition.

Clerical abuse victim advocates hailed the decision to move forward with Pell's trial as an example of holding church leaders accountable.

Before leaving Rome, Cardinal Pell had told reporters at a Vatican news conference, "I'm innocent of these charges". The police described the charges as "historical" sexual assault offences because the crimes allegedly occurred decades ago. The judge also ruled that Pell can not establish contact with the prosecution's witnesses or leave the country. He has already handed in his passport.

"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. The Pope has said he would wait for justice to take its course, but it is not known how long he is prepared to wait.

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