Cardinal Pell likely to face two trials, court hears

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Cardinal George Pell is expected to face two trials on sexual assault charges, an Australian court has heard.

The Vatican treasurer, 76, has pleaded not guilty to all charges, and has strenuously denied any wrongdoing.

On Tuesday, a magistrate ordered him to stand trial. The allegations relate to the 1970s and 1990s, a court heard.

Cardinal Pell appeared at the County Court of Victoria on Wednesday, where prosecution and defence teams asked for the case to be split across two trials.

If a judge agrees, separate juries would hear allegations against Cardinal Pell about his time as a priest in Ballarat in the 1970s, and charges relating to when he was archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.

Much of the evidence given at a previous hearing was not open to the public, and remains confidential.

Cardinal Pell is Australia’s most senior Catholic and one of the most powerful officials in the Vatican.

Speedy process urged

On Wednesday, Judge Susan Pullen said a trial date was expected to be set during an administrative hearing on 16 May.

The cardinal’s lawyer, Robert Richter QC, argued for matters to proceed quickly because “my client is 76 years old [and] everyone needs to get on with their lives”.

He also said one “critical witness” was now aged in his 80s, and that health was “important” for other witnesses.

Cardinal George Pell leaves a Melbourne court on 2 May flanked by a police guardImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionLawyers have asked for two separate trials

The court heard that one trial could examine charges relating to a swimming pool in Ballarat, while the other could hear of an alleged incident at Melbourne St Patrick’s Cathedral.

“They are of a completely different nature… and separated by 20 years,” Mr Richter told the court, Fairfax Media reported.

The proposed trial arrangements would run for a total period of 10 weeks, the court heard.

Vatican leave

Last June, Cardinal Pell was charged in the state of Victoria with allegations involving “multiple complainants”.

Following a month-long preliminary hearing, a magistrate ruled that there was enough evidence for some charges to proceed to a jury.

However, half of the original charges were struck out on the basis of insufficient evidence and doubt over the reliability of testimony.

Cardinal Pell has strongly denied all accusations, saying last year: “I am innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

The cleric has taken a leave of absence from the Vatican to fight the charges in his home country.

In a brief statement on Tuesday, the Holy See said it had “taken note of the decision issued by judicial authorities in Australia”.

“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,” the statement said.

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