MELBOURNE, Australia, May 3, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Australian Cardinal George Pell faces two trials within months on charges of alleged past sexual abuse after a magistrate ruled earlier this week there was sufficient evidence against him, the Irish Times has reported.
Melbourne Magistrate Belinda Wallington threw out half the charges against Pell, including the most serious, but concluded after a month-long preliminary hearing the 76-year-old cardinal should be tried by jury on “multiple” charges.
The most senior Catholic cleric to face trial on such allegations, Pell has been on leave from his post as Vatican treasurer since being charged last June.
Pell pleaded not guilty to the charges, the exact number and nature of which Australian authorities have not made public.
Dozens of police lined up to shield Pell from jostling media and crowds as he entered and exited Victoria state County Court Wednesday for an administrative hearing, the Irish Times reported.
His lawyer Robert Richter told the judge prosecutors agreed to split the charges, and they estimate the two trials will take eight to 10 weeks in total.
The charges relating to allegations against Pell when he was a priest in Ballarat in the 1970s, and those relating to his time as archbishop of Melbourne in the late 90s are “of a completely different nature” and “separated by 20 years,” Richter said.
Pell wants the trials to begin as soon as possible, because of his age and because “everyone has to get on with their lives,” Richter said. Moreover, he noted, one of the witnesses is 80 years old.
Pell has vehemently denied the allegations, and plans to return to the Vatican after he is acquitted.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke issued a statement after Wallington’s ruling that the Holy See had “taken note” of the decision.
“Last year, the Holy Father granted Cardinal Pell a leave of absence so he could defend himself from the accusations,” he said. “The leave of absence is still in place.”
Richter, 72, is considered one of Australia’s top criminal lawyers, and made headlines during the preliminary hearing when he asked Wallington to disqualify herself because of a “biased view of the evidence,” according to CNN.
He also denounced the police investigation, arguing there was no supporting evidence or witnesses to corroborate accusers’ claims of abuse, and suggested the investigation stemmed from increased “public and political pressure” because of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The Commission’s December 2017 report detailed widespread sexual abuse and corruption in the Catholic Church in Australia and recommended sweeping changes, including forcing priests to break the seal of Confession in certain cases.
Richter also accused a journalist who wrote a book on Pell of “poisoning the public’s mind,” and argued the allegations were an attempt to destroy Pell’s reputation.
That’s echoed by many, including Catholic writer George Weigel, who compared the charges against Pell to a witch hunt, and said they were not surprising given the “fantastic campaign of false allegations of sexual abuse conducted against the cardinal.”
The media’s “Get Pell” mentality makes it likely that the cardinal “will not get a fair trial,” Australian journalist Angela Shanahan wrote last July.
In the meantime, Pell’s bail conditions forbid him leaving the country and contacting prosecution witnesses. He must also give police 24-hour notice of a change of address. He is currently living in Sydney and flies to Melbourne for his court appearances.
Pell will be in court again on May 16.