VATICAN Treasurer George Pell has pleaded not guilty after an Australian court ruled that he must face trial on charges of historical sexual offences. The ruling makes him the most senior Catholic leader to face a jury.
According to The Age, Pell was committed to stand trial in the county court on multiple charges involving multiple complainants, but also managed to have many other allegations, including the most serious, thrown out.
Magistrate Belinda Wallington committed the 76-year-old top Vatican official on charges, involving numerous accusers, alleging sexual offences at a swimming pool in the 1970s in Ballarat, where Pell was then working as a priest. Others were alleged to take place at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1990s, when he was the then Archbishop of Melbourne.
Many of the most serious allegations were dismissed in the Melbourne magistrates’ court, with witnesses described as unreliable and lacking credibility.
One of those thrown out involved alleged offending in a Ballarat cinema during a screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Given inconsistencies between the witness statement and when the movie was screened, Wallington determined there was insufficient evidence for him to stand trial.
The Guardian reported that 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 is on a leave of absence from his role as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, the third most senior Catholic at the Vatican. Pope Francis has said he will not comment until the case is over.
The decision to face trial was arrived at following a committal hearing that lasted almost a month, during which witnesses were cross-examined. Pell sat quietly behind his lawyer, wearing a black suit with a clergyman’s collar, as the decision was read out.
A date for the trial has not been set.