Australia's most senior Catholic, and the third ranked figure in the Vatican behind Pope Francis, has been committed to stand trial on historical sexual offence charges.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on May 1, 2018

Cardinal George Pell has formally pleaded not guilty and maintains his innocence despite magistrate Belinda Wallington deciding the recent month-long committal hearing had produced enough evidence to justify a trial.

The most “vile” of the allegations — as worded by Pell’s defence barrister Robert Richter QC — have been dismissed in the Melbourne magistrates’ court on Tuesday.

So, he will be left to answer to approximately half of the charges laid against him.

Inconsistencies in one complainant’s evidence led to Wallington throwing out the charges relating to alleged offences in 1978/79.

The accuser claimed to have been taken out of St Joseph’s boys home and taken to different locations where the offences would take place. But records showed he didn’t reside at the boys home during that time and that evidence was backed by his foster mother.

“He [the complainant] could not reconcile the differences,” Wallington said.

“In this case the inconsistencies must be examined as a fundamental defect in evidence… I find [his] evidence as a whole is not of sufficient weight for a jury to convict.”

An allegation from another complainant was also dismissed because he too frequently failed to answer questions citing poor memory.

“It is difficult to see how a jury can convict on the evidence of a man who cannot recall what he said one minute ago,” Wallington said. “I am not satisfied the evidence is of sufficient weight to support a conviction.”

Already dismissed allegations

A number of the charges against Pell had already been dropped before today’s hearing.

Damian Dignan died in January this year, two years after first accusing Pell of touching his genitals in a pool in Ballarat.

Dignan coming forward was a major factor in the criminal case proceeding, and former chief magistrate Nicholas Papas told The Australian, “It’s not an unreasonable quote to say that prosecutors could have a more difficult task now, yes.”

“Normally it requires that the person who has given evidence to be there, and so normally it would be the case that without them there, the prosecution can’t proceed … but you can’t be absolutely sure.”

Dignan’s lawyer Ingrid Irwin said without his bravery Pell wouldn’t be under the microscope.

“Without Damian Dignan there wouldn’t be anything happening,” she told The Age.

“Why did he have to die before he could see some semblance of justice – why is that?”

Another complainant was considered medically unfit to give evidence.

The charges Pell is facing

The legal system prevents the details of these charges to be released at this stage.

But it is understood the testimony of two accusers focused on the period between July 1996 and December 1997 was strong enough for all but one of the charges to go to trial.

And several others will front a jury in a trial that will attract global interest, and potentially have huge ramifications for the Catholic Church.

Pell — who is presently free on bail but has had his passport confiscated — will now face a directions hearing in the County Court tomorrow morning, where the trial date will likely be set.