Published: Tue, May 01, 2018
World News | By Laverne Osborne

Cardinal George Pell to stand trial on historical sex assault charges

Cardinal George Pell to stand trial on historical sex assault charges

Australia's highest ranking Catholic will go to trial on historic sexual offence charges, but the most serious charges against him have been thrown out.

Although Melbourne Magistrate Belinda Wallington dismissed numerous charges against Pell, who was appointed archbishop of Sydney in 2001 and later oversaw the Vatican's finances under Pope Francis, she said that the prosecution's case was strong enough to warrant a jury trial on the remaining charges.

More than 30 witnesses testified during a preliminary court hearing, known as a committal, that ran for four weeks from March.

In April the defence and prosecution returned to Melbourne Magistrates Court for further legal arguments.

"One would have to be living on Mars not to notice the centre of the allegations has been the Catholic Church", he told the court.

But she was satisfied a jury could potentially convict Pell based on the evidence from a separate complainant who alleged Pell offended against him.

He was given a large police guard as he entered the Melbourne Magistrates' Court in front of dozens of media representatives and members of the public. He has been charged with "historical sexual offenses" relating to his time as a priest in Australia's Victoria state decades ago.

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Pell - at the moment on a depart of absence from his function - is essentially the most senior Vatican official to be charged within the Catholic Church.

When allegations of historical sexual abuse by Cardinal Pell first came to light in 2016 the Pope stressed that "we must avoid a media verdict based on gossip".

"He will defend the remaining charges". A decision on holding one or more trials will be made by a County Court judge.

A statement said the Holy See had "taken note" of the ruling.

It cemented a meteoric rise by the Australian, who was Archbishop of Melbourne and then Sydney before being named to the Vatican's powerful College of Cardinals at the behest of Pope John Paul II in 2003.

The pontiff has said he would not comment on the case until it was over.

Some charges were dismissed or withdrawn during the hearing, among them allegations made by one man that he had been removed from St Joseph's boys' home and taken to different locations where he was abused.

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