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Cardinal Pell to stand trial in abuse case

Australian Cardinal George Pell speaks to journalists at the end of a meeting with sex abuse victims at the Quirinale hotel in Rome on March 3, 2016. Photo courtesy of Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi/File Photo

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The most senior Vatican official to be charged in the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis will stand trial.

Cardinal George Pell will face at least one charge at trial after being accused of sexually abusing multiple victims decades ago.

Magistrate Belinda Wallington on Tuesday (May 1) dismissed some of the other charges against Pell.

Wallington issued her ruling in the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

Wearing a cleric’s collar, Pell arrived by car in front of the downtown court where police officers were waiting to maintain order.

When she asked Pell how he pleaded, the cardinal stood and said in a firm voice: “Not guilty.”

Lawyers for Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic had argued the accusations were untrue and should be dismissed.

More than 40 uniformed police officers were waiting to maintain order as media jostled on the crowded sidewalk to videotape and photograph him.

Pell, Pope Francis’ former finance minister, was charged last June with sexually abusing multiple people in his Australian home state of Victoria. The details of the allegations against the 76-year-old have yet to be released to the public, though police have described the charges as “historical” sexual assault offenses — meaning the crimes allegedly occurred decades ago.

His alleged victims testified in the first two weeks of the preliminary hearing via a video link from a remote location to a room closed to the media and public.

Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, told Wallington in his final submissions two weeks ago that the complainants might have testified against one of the church’s most powerful men to punish him for failing to act against abuse by clerics.

But prosecutor Mark Gibson told the magistrate there was no evidence to back Richter’s theory that Pell had been targeted over the church’s failings.

Since Pell returned to Australia from the Vatican in July, he has lived in Sydney and flown to Melbourne for his court hearings. His circumstances are far removed from the years he spent as the high-profile and polarizing archbishop of Melbourne and later Sydney before his promotion to Rome in 2014.

Pell’s face has shown little emotion while attending court during his hard-fought and extraordinarily long preliminary hearing.

He was frisked for weapons in standard security procedures as he entered the high-rise court building, and shared its corridors with alleged drug dealers, thieves, thugs and drunken drivers during breaks in court proceedings.

The case places both the cardinal and the pope in potentially perilous territory. For Pell, the charges are a threat to his freedom, his reputation and his career. For Francis, they are a threat to his credibility, given he famously promised a “zero tolerance” policy for sex abuse in the church.

Advocates for abuse victims have long railed against Francis’ decision to appoint Pell to the high-ranking position in the first place. At the time of his promotion, Pell was already facing allegations that he had mishandled cases of clergy abuse during his time leading the church in Melbourne and Sydney, Australia’s largest cities.

So far, Francis has withheld judgment of Pell, saying he wants to wait for justice to run its course. And he did not force the cardinal to resign, though Pell took an immediate leave of absence so he could return to Australia to fight the charges. Pell said he intends to continue his work as a prefect of the church’s economy ministry once the case is resolved.

In recent years, Pell’s actions as archbishop came under particular scrutiny by a government-authorized investigation into how the Catholic Church and other institutions have responded to the sexual abuse of children.

Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse — the nation’s highest form of inquiry — revealed last year that 7 percent of Catholic priests were accused of sexually abusing children in Australia over the past several decades.

In testimony to the commission in 2016, Pell conceded that he had made mistakes by often believing priests over people who said they had been abused. And he vowed to help end a rash of suicides that has plagued abuse victims in his hometown of Ballarat.

Pell testified to the inquiry in a video link from the Vatican about his time as a priest and bishop in Australia. He did not attend in person because of a heart condition and other medical problems.

Police said at the preliminary hearing that they had planned to arrest Pell for questioning had he returned to Australia in early 2016 to testify.

His lawyers argued in court that Pell was targeted for “special treatment” by detectives from a police task force that investigated historical sex abuse. Police witnesses denied that accusation.

The investigation of Pell began in 2013 before any complainant had come forward to police, whom Richter accused of running “a get Pell operation.”

Pell’s lawyers told the court in February that the first complainant approached police in 2015, 40 years after the alleged crimes, in response to media reports about the royal commission.

Pell was charged by summons in Rome and agreed to return to Australia to face the allegations.

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The Associated Press

35 Comments

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  • The defense here is basic Church strategy. Cover-up and delay, cover-up and delay, and after a decade or four, blame the victims and their memories. Be proud, Francis!!!

  • At least he is viciously antigay. That ought to count for something.

    I wonder if he will suffer a bad case of the wesoslowskis. Perhaps even a cardinal case. They are usalLy fatal.

  • Re: “Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, told [Magistrate] Wallington in his final submissions two weeks ago that the complainants might have testified against one of the church’s most powerful men to punish him for failing to act against abuse by clerics.”  

    This is an implied admission that there has been abuse of children by Catholic clergy, which the Church failed to handle. Hmm. So much for all the bilge about how the allegations were trumped up for money, or a wicked conspiracy against God’s holy Church, or ginned up by the Forces of Darkness, etc.  

  • “At least he is viciously antigay.”

    He’s a Catholic bishop.

    In common with the vast majority of Christian denominations Catholicism considers same sex relations sinful, and therefore opposes same sex “marriage”, but admonishes Catholics to treat those with same sex attraction with respect and charity.

  • Generally here in the United States we have a trial before we have a hanging.

    Too bad for Pell he’s in Australia.

  • I’m not sure I’ve said anything about “hanging” anyone. Just noting that Pell’s lawyer threw the rest of the Catholic Church — including the portion of its hierarchy that had worked for Pell — under the bus. But hey, whatever you say Bob.  

  • The church has known for many decades that thep phenomenon of child sexual abuse by clergy is real–it’s there in Canon law. And the church has had reminders as early as the mid-1980’s that it is still going on.

    My best guess is that the clergy knew very well that this was going on–how could priests be so ignorant of the behavior of close colleagues?–but chose to overlook it because they believed that protecting the church was more important than protecting its members.

    That said, Pell deserves a fair trial.

  • Your comment did not “not(e) that Pell’s lawyer threw the rest of the Catholic Church — including the portion of its hierarchy that had worked for Pell — under the bus.”

    You quoted

    “Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, told [Magistrate] Wallington in his final submissions two weeks ago that the complainants might have testified against one of the church’s most powerful men to punish him for failing to act against abuse by clerics.”

    And write that (t)his is an implied admission that there has been abuse of children by Catholic clergy, which the Church failed to handle.”

    First, there was no “implied” admission.

    It is a matter of record that there had been abuse of children by Catholic clergy, along with abuse of children by a plethora of others, some employed by the government.

    Second, that fact did not implicate “the rest of the Catholic Church”.

    Third, that fact that did not implicate “the portion of its hiearchy (sic) that had worked for Pell”.

    Those last two unsupported assertions constituted the “hanging” I mentioned.

  • “Pell deserves a fair trial”

    Can we hope that the trial will be fair to the victims as well as to Pell? They also, at least in theory (and maybe only in theory) deserve fairness.

  • Of course, I agree with everything you wrote, and my comment was not intended in any way as a defense of Pell or the church.

    Although Pell certainly deserves the assumption of innocent-until-proven-guilty, at the same time anyone familiar with the long, sad history of the RCC ought to have considerable skepticism about Pell and his church.

  • Perhaps you can point out what, other than opposing your positions, you believe I am engaged in that constitutes the offense?

    Remember before you respond you may find your posts elsewhere quoted as part of any response I make.

  • Like I said, Bob … whatever you say. You always have the last word, Bob. I’d never want to deprive you of that. 

    Never. 

    I mean, I could remark that “water is wet,” and you’d conjure up some rationale to get all sanctimonious about that, too.  

    Like I said … whatever you say, Bob. Whatever you say.  

    BTW there’s nothing “unsupported” in anything I said … but as always, Bob … whatever you say. Always!  

  • Note that the gun supporter, deluded Christian nutcase, and NRA shill presenting himself in this thread as “Bob Arnzen” variously and dishonestly uses a variety of names on RNS such as Bob Arnzen, José Carioca, and others. However, there is actually no real Bob Arnzen, and there is no real José Carioca.

  • Note that the gun supporter, deluded Christian nutcase, and NRA shill posting frequently in this thread as “Bob Arnzen” variously and dishonestly uses a variety of names on RNS such as Bob Arnzen, José Carioca, and others. However, there is actually no real Bob Arnzen, and there is no real José Carioca.

  • Whatever you say, Bob. Whatever you say. I could mention today’s bright blue sky and you’d find some way to gripe and whine. 

    Whatever you say, Bob. Always. Whatever you say. 

  • Most of these abusers and pedophiles were (1) homosexuals and (2) social justice liberals.

    The liberal elite didn’t seem to mind their presence when they were promoting those policies.

  • And every single one of them, not MOST of them, was a catholic. And every single one of them, not MOST of them, was a Catholic priest, called to the priesthood by their all powerful, all knowing, all good god.

  • Oh? And just how do you know they were homosexual and “social justice liberals”?

    And isn’t “social justice” a part of Catholic principles, or dogma?

    Thank you for you message. You’ve told us quite a bit about yourself.

  • CorvetteKid1969’s comments tell us a good deal about how well (i.e., poorly) informed he is, how his misinformation has distorted his understanding of the priest sexual abuse matter, etc.

  • If he weren’t poorly informed, he would be completely uninformed, and what would the fun be in that?

    The actuality is that people who believe that all gay people are somehow responsible for the depredations of a few of the predatory, self loathing, confused, fearful, or perverted members of the priestly class simply want to believe it, because it conforms to their prejudices, their needs, their narrative and, I am increasingly convinced, their own issues.

    There is nothing to be done about it, because no amount of actual evidence will ever changed their minds.

  • And no amount of actual evidence will ever change your mind, so you have something in common.

  • I think basically you’ve hit the nail on the head.

    The whole matter of priests abusing kids, and the reactions of church members to that, is interesting in multiple ways. Of course, the ones who rant about gay people are stunningly misinformed (not merely uninformed) and no doubt have lots of issues about sex in general, hetero- as well as homosexuality.

    Of course, there’s an underlying question in this that terrifies the church and members (totally apart from their obvious, millenia-long extreme discomfort with anything about sex): if it is accurate that homosexuality is inborn or genetic, and you’re a believer, then that must mean that god made gay people that way–and obviously that opens a whole barrel of worms.

  • No chicks are making the allegations, just dudes.

    Social Justice is a code word for using white Catholics as an ATM machine to finance the left-wing black welfare agenda of the anti-Catholic liberal elite.

    These same black and liberal bigots favored forced busing, quotas, affirmative action, slum housing in middle class neighborhoods, and attacks on religious freedoms.

    I refuse to give my $$$ to anti-Catholic Leftists so Mahoney, Cupich, Weakland, and their ilk can let pedophiles rape children so long as they favor single-payer health plans.

  • I NEVER said “all gays” were to blame for the abusive priests.

    What I did say is that virtually EVERY one involved male-male sexual contact.

    The CC needs to better screen out homosexuality and sexual deviancy from the priesthood.

  • No, it doesn’t. They just will claim it is a consequence of the fall, and go merrily on their way.

    It’s just what I always say– innate bigotry pretending it is sincere religious belief,

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