|Cardinal George Pell has been committed to stand trial on multiple|
charges related to historical sexual assault.
Photo: Jason South
While the Vatican dilly dallies, sheds crocodile tears, and fails to hold senior Catholic Church clerics responsible for the world wide sex abuse scandal wracking the Church - Australia, Guam, Pennsylvania and New York State are current centers of the scandal - civil authorities are stepping in to fill the gap. In Australia, civil authorities are being especially aggressive after a scathing report by a royal commission which, among other things, found the western rite requirement of priestly celibacy to be a significant factor in creating the priestly abuse phenomenon. Now, Australian authorities are set to proceed with a criminal trial of Cardinal George Pell, the highest Catholic cleric in Australia and arguably the number two office holder after the Pope. The Sydney Morning Herald looks at this one unheard of development. Here are excerpts:
George Pell will be the most senior Catholic leader to face a jury after being committed to stand trial on multiple historic sexual assault charges.
In a decision that will ring loud through the Vatican and around the religious world, Australia's most senior Catholic and the man who a year ago oversaw management of the Vatican's finances was on Tuesday committed to stand trial on half the charges he faced, involving multiple accusers.
[M]agistrate Belinda Wallington . . . committed the 76-year-old on charges against multiple complainants, involving alleged sexual offending at a swimming pool in the 1970s in Ballarat, 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.
Asked to enter a plea, Cardinal Pell sat seated in a packed Melbourne Magistrates Court but said in a loud, clear voice: "Not guilty."
Magistrate Belinda Wallington said there was no evidence the two Ballarat accusers had colluded in their evidence.
Flanked by up to 40 police officers, Cardinal Pell arrived at the court in a white sedan just after 9am. He wore a dark coloured suit and white shirt.
The police separated the Cardinal’s path from the public as protesters arrived with laminated signs reading “every child deserves a safe and happy childhood”.
In addition, ABC News Australia has these highlights:Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart released a statement saying he declined to make any comment about the decision to commit Cardinal Pell to face trial in the County Court.
A number of onlookers applauded as the magistrate left the court room after delivering her 70-minute ruling.Defence barrister Robert Richter QC said the most "vile" of the charges had been dismissed.
Cardinal Pell will face a directions hearing in the County Court tomorrow morning, when it's expected a date will be set for a trial before a jury. He is on bail and has already handed in his passport, the court heard. He is unable to leave Australia as a condition of his bail.
Today's ruling follows a month-long committal hearing in March.
Among the allegations, he is accused of sexual offending at Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral in the late 1990s when he was Archbishop of Melbourne. Cardinal Pell is also accused of committing sexual offences at a Ballarat pool during the 1970s, when he was a priest in the area.
Ms Wallington told an earlier hearing she believed an accused person should be committed to stand trial unless there was a "fundamental defect" in the evidence. "I think issues of credibility and reliability are matters for a jury, except where you get to a point where [a complainant's] credibility is effectively annihilated," she said.
As a child when I was indoctrinated by Catholic priests and nuns, I never imagined that a day would come when a "prince of the church" would be laid so low. Sadly, given the Church hierarchy's arrogance and utter indifference to the lives of children and youths, not to mention the Vatican's refusal to punish the 1/3 or more of American bishops who protected predators, the Church's humiliation is deserved and long. long overdue.