Cardinal Pell hearing begins in Australian court

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell Confronts Charges of 'Historical Sexual Offenses'

Australia's most senior cleric Cardinal George Pell will today face an enormous media throng outside the Melbourne Magistrates' Court, for day one of a month-long committal hearing.

He has indicated he will plead not guilty if the committal hearing, which is expected to last a month, finds there is sufficient evidence to warrant a jury trial.

Pell's legal team successfully won its bid to raise undisclosed materials from a victims advocacy group, the Victorian police force, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and lawyers involved in the area of historic sexual abuse, as well as from the complainants themselves.

Pope Francis' former finance minister was charged in June of a year ago with sexually abusing multiple people in his Australian home state of Victoria.

Cardinal Pell has denied the allegations. The pontiff has said he will not comment on the case until it is over.

Local media has reported that as many as 50 witnesses, including former choirboys, are expected to provide evidence.

"It is a guide to police about how to fairly investigate claims against prominent people", he told Melbourne Magistrates Court on Monday.

"These documents are certainly relevant to the alleged offences".

Prosecutor Mark Gibson asked the court to allow Pell's accusers to have an assistant and a support dog next to them for comfort.

On Friday prosecutors withdrew one of the charges, relating to a complainant who died after the criminal proceedings began in 2017.

Richter responded: "I always thought dogs were there for children and very old people, but if they want a dog ...", to which Wallington replied: "They're also for vulnerable people".

Magistrate Belinda Wallington, who is hearing the matter, ruled the defence could question a witness about the timing of the allegations but said "there is no intention to trawl through detail of abuse at the hands of other clergy".

Defence barrister Robert Richter QC told a previous hearing Cardinal Pell would plead not guilty.

"They are false. The whole idea of sex offences is abhorrent to me", Cardinal Pell said, adding that there had been "media leaks" and "relentless character assassination" during the investigation.

Well, due to Pell's own allegedly "catastrophic" actions, the Catholic Church's reputation has taken another big hit. Advocates for abuse victims have long railed against Francis's decision to appoint Pell to the high-ranking position in the first place.

So far, Francis has withheld judgment of Pell, saying he wants to wait for Australian justice to run its course.

Pell was archbishop of Melbourne before working as Prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy, the Vatican's finance director.

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