The trials of Pell

In her thorough, thoughtful way, Magistrate Belinda Wallington moved through the charges and struck out those about which she wasn’t satisfied. In the end, about half remained.

George Pell will face trial over alleged sexual offences said to have been committed at a swimming pool in Ballarat in the 1970s and at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s. Pell has pleaded not guilty to these charges.

As directions were given, Pell’s barrister said the most “vile” of the charges had been dismissed. The magistrate found that one witness was unreliable and that other charges were unlikely based on the time line given. “The evidence as a whole is not a sufficient weight for a jury to convict.”

Among the charges dismissed were that Pell assaulted a boy in a Ballarat movie theatre during a screening of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. A complaint from the same witness, that Pell continue to assault him in different locations throughout Ballarat over the course of a year, was also dismissed.

Details of the surviving charges are scant. Extraordinary suppression orders govern the process. It is likely Pell will face two separate trials. His passport has been forfeited. He remains on bail.

Pell is the most senior Catholic in the world to face court over allegations of child sexual abuse. The sombre process through which he now passes will decide the outcome of those allegations. The authority of the church rests uneasily on it.

The statement from the Vatican was terse, perfunctory: “The Holy See has taken note of the decision issued by judicial authorities in Australia regarding His Eminence Cardinal George Pell. Last year, the Holy Father granted Cardinal Pell a leave of absence so he could defend himself from the accusations. The leave of absence is still in place.”

Pell released a statement through his lawyers, Galbally & O’Bryan: “Cardinal George Pell has at all times fully co-operated with Victoria Police and always and steadfastly maintained his innocence. He has voluntarily returned to Australia to meet those accusations.

“He will defend the remaining charges.

“He would like to thank all of those who have supported him from both here in Australia and overseas during this exacting time and is grateful for their continued support and prayers.”

Outside the court, protesters stood with their wishes and placards: “Every child deserves a safe and happy childhood.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 5, 2018 as "The trials of Pell ".

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