Victims of paedophilia-accused Vatican Cardinal to testify

On Monday, Cardinal Pell heard directly from the complainants who have accused him of historical sex offences as they gave evidence for the first time.

The prosecution last week withdrew one of the charges, relating to a complainant who died after the criminal proceedings began in 2017.

Cardinal George Pell's committal hearing over sexual abuse charges has begun at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Australia.

"It is a guide to police about how to fairly investigate claims against prominent people", he told the court. Prosecutors also asked for permission for a witness support dog to be allowed in the facility, which was described in the court as "a relatively new initiative".

He said: "I always thought that dogs were for children and very old people".

Once the committal is over, the magistrate will decide if there is enough evidence to go to trial in a higher court.

When Pell last lived in Melbourne, he was archbishop of Australia's second-largest city.

Pell is on a leave of absence from his Vatican role as Pope Francis' economy minister, which he started in 2014. He intends to return to that job once the criminal charges are resolved.

Pell is the most senior Vatican official ever to be charged with sexual abuse.

In its findings handed down in December, the five-year inquiry found Australian institutions "seriously failed" children in their care, with tens of thousands sexually assaulted. These figures have been released as part of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse -7% of priests are allegedly guilty of such crimes.

He has previously walked slowly into court for two hearings in July and October past year alongside his barrister Robert Richter QC, one of the most expensive criminal silks in the country, rumoured to be commanding a fee of $16,000 a day.

Richter also said it would only be fair to also allow his client to have a support person with him due to his "age and medical condition", which Wallington said she would allow.

He told Wallington, the magistrate, that he understood the prosecution "has an objection to that support person being a priest, although I can't understand that".

Marc Gibson SC will lead the prosecution for the Crown along with Fran Daziel QC.

He has not had to enter a plea, although he has instructed his lawyer from the outset to make clear he meant to plead not guilty. The pontiff has said he will not comment on the case until it is over.

"These documents are certainly relevant to the alleged offences", Richter said.

Police should also provide the court with any exculpatory material they had acquired that might depict Pell favourably, he said.

The case places both the cardinal and the pope in potentially perilous territory.

  • Jon Douglas