Cardinal George Pell today appeared in an Australian court for the start of a four-week pre-trial hearing into charges of historical sexual offences, with his lawyers asking that a support person be allowed to sit with him because of his age and ill health.
ReutersCardinal George Pell arrives at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Melbourne, Australia March 5, 2018.
The 76-year-old Australian cardinal has denied any wrongdoing and has foreshadowed pleas of not guilty if the committal hearing that is scheduled to run as long as a month finds there is sufficient evidence to warrant a jury trial.
Pell was charged by detectives from Victoria Police's Sano taskforce in June of past year, receiving leave from the Pope to return to Australia from the Vatican to fight these charges.
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The accusers will give evidence by video link from a remote location.
Richter told Wallington that by law, prosecutors should make documents relevant to the alleged offences available to the defence team to assist them in their cross-examination of witnesses.
"Richter is very good at what he does and delves into the tiniest details".
The committal hearing continues. "The major difference is that a committal hearing is heard by a single magistrate (a legally qualified lower-ranked judge), rather than a jury".
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Since his last appearance, his legal team has been denied requests for medical records of the complainants, with the magistrate saying disclosure could be harmful.
Pell's lawyers told the court last month that the allegations stemmed from publicity surrounding a national inquiry into child abuse three years ago. Pell was questioned about his knowledge of and response to allegations of child abuse when he was a priest and bishop, but no allegation was made that he was a perpetrator.
One of the charges was withdrawn on Friday, reportedly because the accuser died.
No other details of the case can be reported at this stage for legal reasons.
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When Pell was promoted in 2014, he was already facing allegations that he had mishandled cases of clergy abuse during his time as archbishop of Melbourne and, later, Sydney. He was soon appointed to the senior position of prefect of the secretariat for the economy and became a trusted figure close to Pope Francis.
"I'm innocent of these charges, they are false", Pell said.
"For the avoidance of doubt and because of the interest might I indicate that Cardinal Pell pleads not guilty to all charges and will maintain his presumed innocence", he said. "The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me".
Scandal has rocked the Catholic Church many times, but has never stretched as far as this.
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The Catholic Church was the sole target of about 20 recommendations, outlining what would amount to be a radical shakeup of centuries of tradition and orthodoxy.