Published: Wed, May 02, 2018
World Media | By Cesar Oliver

Australian cardinal must stand trial on sexual assault charges

Australian cardinal must stand trial on sexual assault charges

Cardinal George Pell was ordered by an Australian magistrate to face trial over sexual abuse allegations, a decision that may make him the most senior Roman Catholic prelate to be forced to defend himself in court over a scandal that has swept through Catholic communities around the world.

"Cardinal George Pell has at all times fully cooperated with Victoria Police and always and steadfastly maintained his innocence", a statement from his lawyers said.

"Not guilty", the top aide to Pope Francis said loudly and without hesitation when asked his plea, a stance he has taken since first being charged a year ago.

Until now, he has not had to formally enter a plea, although he instructed his lawyer from the outset to make clear he meant to plead not guilty.

Pell formally entered a plea of not guilty.

Since Pell returned to Australia from the Vatican in July, he has lived in Sydney and flown to Melbourne for his court hearings.

But about half the charges against him were dismissed by the magistrate.

Magistrate Wallington, following a month-long hearing committed the 76-year-old cleric "on charges against multiple complainants, involving alleged sexual offending at a swimming pool in the 1970s in Ballarat, near Melbourne, where the accused man was then working as a priest; and at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in 1990s, when he was the then Archbishop of Melbourne".

The inquiry, ordered in 2012, heard that 4,444 alleged incidents of pedophilia were reported to church authorities and that in some dioceses more than 15 percent of priests were perpetrators.

"I'm looking forward, finally, to having my day in court", said Pell in June 2017.

Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell leaves after making an appearance in court in Melbourne on May 1, 2018. "The leave of absence is still in place". Pell was surrounded by police as he was quickly ushered into the court just before 9.30am, and was met by a small crowd of supporters and opponents.

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.

In striking out some of the charges, Ms Wallington said one complainant had demonstrated a "cavalier attitude" to giving evidence, while inconsistencies in the evidence of another complainant meant there was insufficient weight in the allegation for a conviction.

Under his bail conditions, Pell can not leave Australia, contact prosecution witnesses and must give police 24-hour notice of any change of address.

So far, Pope Francis has withheld judgment of Cardinal Pell, saying he wants to wait for justice to run its course.

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