The case against Cardinal George Pell, 76, has started in a court in Melbourne, Australia.
The cardinal is the highest-ranking Catholic Church cleric to face direct charges of sexual abuse. Pell, who was archbishop of Australia’s two biggest cities before his appointment to a Vatican post in 2014, is charged with multiple sexual offences. The details have not been made public.
Pell is in a commital hearing in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court. This is when the magistrate decides if evidence is strong enough to send the defendant for a full trial. The defendant is not required to enter a plea at the commital stage, but Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, has already said his client would plead not guilty to all charges.
“In 2002, after an allegation surfaced that Pell himself had sexually abused a 12-year-old boy four decades earlier, he stepped down from his post for two months until a church-appointed inquiry concluded that there was insufficient evidence to corroborate the allegation. (Encyclopaedia Britannica).”
About 50 witnesses are expected to give evidence over the next month. Magistrate Belinda Wallington permitted the use of a “comfort animal”, a black dog owned by Victoria Police, to reassure some of the complainants who will give evidence.
The Australian Catholic Church has paid out A$276 million ($213m/€173m) in compensation to victims of clerical sexual abuse since 1980, a government inquiry was told in 2017.