NEWS
01/05/2018 08:24 BST

Cardinal Pell To Stand Trial On Historic Sexual Assault Charges

He is Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic.

Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Vatican official to be charged in the Catholic Church sex abuse crisis, will stand trial on historic sexual assault charges, a court has ruled.

Magistrate Belinda Wallington dismissed some of the charges that had been heard in the four-week preliminary hearing in Melbourne, but decided the prosecution’s case against Pell was strong enough to warrant a trial by jury.

Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic pleaded not guilty to charges on Tuesday and his lawyers argued the accusations were untrue and should be dismissed.

Pell, Pope Francis’ former finance minister, was charged in 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, although police have described the charges as “historical” sexual assault offences.

WILLIAM WEST via Getty Images
Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell (C) arrives in court under a heavy police presence in Melbourne on May 1.

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.

His 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.

Before his promotion to Rome in 2014, Pell was archbishop of Melbourne and then Sydney.

The pope has famously promised a “zero tolerance” policy for sex abuse in the church.

So far, the head of the Catholic Church has withheld judgment of Pell, saying he wants to wait for justice to run its course.