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Published: 01 May 2018
Author: Penny Savidis

Cardinal Pell to stand trial for historic sex offences

Magistrate Belinda Wallington today committed Cardinal George Pell to stand trial for multiple charges of historic sexual assault.

Magistrate Wallington struck out a number of charges, including serious charges relating to alleged offending at the Ballarat cinema and a chapel in Ballarat in the 1970s. Pell has pleaded not guilty to the remainder of the charges that will now go to trial. According to his criminal lawyers, Pell “has at all times fully cooperated with Victoria Police and steadfastly maintained his innocence.”

Pell has unenviably made history as the most senior Catholic leader to face such a trial to date. He is Australia’s most senior cleric and has been granted leave of absence from his position of Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy with the Vatican to defend the charges.

A number of ‘firsts’

A number of similar ‘firsts’ have been made of late, with Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson last month labelled the world's most senior Catholic to be charged with covering up child sexual  abuse: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-04-09/catholic-archbishop-philip-wilson-wants-case-thrown-out-again/9632804. And in March this year, legislation was introduced into State parliament to put a stop reliance on the so-called Ellis defence that has been deployed by the Catholic Church to avoid civil claims of historical sexual abuse for years: https://rctlaw.com.au/legal-blog/2018/doomsday-for-ellis-defence-as-new-laws-introduced-to-parliament.

Today’s outcome is the culmination of the four-week committal Magistrates’ Court hearing that attracted intense global attention and a strong police presence, but it is only the beginning of the road towards Pell’s criminal trial. Pell, who is on bail, will appear at a Directions Hearing in the County Court of Victoria tomorrow where a date for his trial by jury is likely to be set. It will only be at a full hearing that Pell’s guilt or innocence will be determined.