Media and Communications Office
Magistrate Belinda Wallington has announced that Cardinal George Pell will stand trial on charges of historical sexual assault.
While a number of charges, including the most serious against him, were thrown out, Ms Wallington deemed that there was sufficient evidence for the case to proceed.
Cardinal Pell is formally pleading not guilty to all charges.
The hearing was held in the Melbourne Magistrates Court’s biggest court room, with Cardinal Pell in attendance. The 76-year-old Vatican treasurer faced multiple charges of sexual offences involving multiple accusers. He is Australia’s most senior Catholic figure and one of the most powerful figures in the Vatican.
Cardinal Pell has denied the accusations since they were made last year saying: ‘I am innocent of these charges, they are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.’ His lawyer, Robert Richter QC, has previously stated that should the case go to trial, he would formally enter a plea of not guilty to all charges.
Today’s ruling follows a month-long committal hearing in March. The hearing featured more than 30 witnesses, including complainants. Ms Wallington has taken the last two weeks to consider her decision. Now that Cardinal Pell is committed to stand trial, he’ll face a directions hearing in the County Court at a later time and a date will be set for trial.
Cardinal Pell is the highest ranked Catholic in the history of the church to stand trial on such serious charges. He is currently on a leave of absence from the Vatican to fight the case against him.
The Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart has declined to make any comment in relation to the decision of the magistrate Belinda Wallington to commit Cardinal Pell to face trial in the County Court. Archbishop Hart expressed his confidence in the judicial system in Australia and said that justice must now take its course.
A media release issued today by Cardinal Pell's legal team stated, 'Cardinal George Pell has at all times fully cooperated with Victoria Police and always steadfastly maintained his innocence. He voluntarily returned to Australia to meet these accusations. He will defend the remaining charges. He would like to thank all those who have supported him from both here in Australia and overseas during this exacting time and is grateful for their continuing support and prayers.'
Pope Francis has declined to comment until the conclusion of the trial, but sources from the Vatican have confirmed that Cardinal Pell will not be forced to resign as a cardinal owing to the trial. Rome correspondent for National Catholic Register Edward Pentin says it is unlikely that Pell will return to his role as Treasurer of the Vatican.
The date of the trial is expected to be released later today. Cardinal Pell remains on bail but may not leave Australia.