By Tessa Akerman and John Ferguson
At least 50 witnesses are set to be called for a landmark committal hearing for historic sexual offence charges for Australia’s most senior Catholic next March.
Cardinal George Pell faced Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday, with his legal team flagging that allegations of an offence or offences at a cathedral were “impossible’’.
The court heard Cardinal Pell’s legal team would reject that any offending had occurred at St Patrick’s Cathedral, although it was not specified whether this was in St Patrick’s in Melbourne or Ballarat.
Although Cardinal Pell has yet to enter a plea, his barrister Robert Richter QC informed the court at an earlier hearing that his client would be pleading not guilty to all charges.
Mr Richter said yesterday he intended to question witnesses regarding charges relating to St Patrick’s Cathedral and demonstrate that the offences could not have occurred. “We propose to demonstrate to Your Honour that what was alleged was impossible,” Mr Richter said.
Magistrate Belinda Wallington said some of the witnesses Mr Richter sought to question didn’t seem to say much in their statements.
But Mr Richter said it was important that the defence counsel be allowed to cross-examine witnesses, including choirboys from the cathedral, as it was unknown what questions were asked when witness statements were actually prepared.
“We do not know what memory was probed at the time these statements were taken,” he said.
Ms Wallington also questioned the cross-examination of some witnesses who were young at the time of the alleged offending.
The full details of what has been alleged against Cardinal Pell have not been revealed by the court.
Yesterday’s hearing lasted only 20 minutes and was dominated by argument over witnesses and timing of subsequent hearings. Cardinal Pell arrived flanked by a large contingent of police but the appearance lacked the security concerns of those in July when international interest in the charges prompted media-led chaos when he arrived and left the court.
Cardinal Pell yesterday arrived and left by the court’s front door and walked from Mr Richter’s chambers about 100m from the court building.
Mr Richter said the supposition didn’t hold that witnesses’ memories of events wouldn’t be deeper if probed as part of the court process.
He said evidence regarding the probability or improbability of something happening was important and the court also heard that an analyst who prepared a chronology of Cardinal Pell’s career might be called as a witness.
Ms Wallington disallowed five witnesses, leaving at least 50 to be called over the four-week committal, which has been set for March.
Mr Richter said Cardinal Pell’s counsel were still waiting for a “voluminous” amount of materials to be delivered by the prosecution and sought an undertaking it could be accomplished by Christmas.
Ms Wallington, who is the supervising magistrate of the sexual assault portfolio, stood the matter down for a further mention on a date to be fixed.
Cardinal Pell is charged with historic sex offences relating to multiple complainants and multiple offences.
The cardinal was the world’s third-most senior Catholic as the Vatican’s Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy when he was charged in June. He stood down from the position with the ambition of returning to Rome if he were cleared of wrongdoing.
He is living in Sydney during the court proceedings and commuting to Melbourne for each hearing.
When The Australian broke the news that Cardinal Pell would be charged with sex offences he stridently rejected any wrongdoing and declared that he was looking forward “to having my day in court”.
“I am innocent of these charges,” he said. “They are false. The whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”
This article (50 witnesses to be called in Cardinal George Pell hearing) was originally published on The Australian and syndicated by The Event Chronicle.