Cardinal George Pell will face trial on multiple charges of historic sexual abuse, a Melbourne magistrate has ruled.
Magistrate Belinda Wallington on Tuesday committed Cardinal Pell to stand trial in a higher court, but dismissed some charges.
She ruled there was evidence of sufficient weight on multiple charges against Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric for him to stand trial.
Ms Wallington, who is continuing to deliver her verdict at the Melbourne Magistrates Court, dropped several of the more serious charges against the Cardinal.
She announced her decision with Cardinal Pell in attendance, along with his legal team and dozens of local and international reporters.
In what is an unprecedented situation for Pope Francis, Cardinal Pell will be the most senior Vatican figure ever to face a criminal trial.
Cardinal Pell, 76, who is living in a seminary in Sydney while he fights the case, attended each day of the four-week committal hearing in March which heard from 50 witnesses, including his accusers.
During the hearings, Cardinal Pell’s barrister, Robert Richter, called for all charges to be dismissed, saying that a trial at a higher court in front of a jury would be a waste of public money.
Mr Richter also attacked the credibility and accounts of the accusers.
He speculated the complaints made to police against the Cardinal were a product of “fantasy” or mental health problems.
Ms Wallington remarked that issues of credibility and reliability were issues for a jury “except when you get to a point when credibility is annihilated”.
Mr Richter responded: “Or close enough to annihilation or a waste of public, time, money and effort to put the man to trial.”
The Cardinal Pell verdict comes after years of clergy abuse and cover-up scandals hitting the Roman Catholic Church from across the globe including thousands of cases, investigations and convictions in countries including the United States, Canada, Ireland and Australia.
Mr Richter claimed Cardinal Pell’s accusers made up accusations against the high-profile cleric due to a “backdrop of innuendo” as a result of two public inquiries into institutional abuse in Australia.
“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.
“And one would have to be living out of Australia not to be living in the fact Cardinal Pell has been seen as the face of this response.”
Mr Richter also claimed photos of Dr Pell accompanying Father Gerald Ridsdale to court in 1993, to support him during a sex abuse case hearing, created feelings of “hatred” towards the Cardinal who was then punished by his accusers.
“That hatred grew greater and greater as he ascended that organisation.”
Mr Richter also strongly criticised detectives from Sano Task Force alleging they did not properly test the claims of the accusers.
Lucie Morris-Marr is an investigative journalist. She has worked as a senior writer at The Herald Sun where she broke the world exclusive about the secret SANO Taskforce investigation into Cardinal George Pell. She is covering Cardinal Pell’s legal proceedings exclusively for The New Daily and CNN.
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