The alleged victims of the most prominent Catholic Church leader to be accused of sex abuse began testifying in Australian court via video link Monday.
Australian authorities charged Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ former finance minister, in June 2017 with sexually abusing multiple people several years ago in his Victoria home. Pell began facing his alleged victims’ testimonies Monday. They testified in court via video link from an undisclosed locations so as to avoid media attention surrounding the courtroom, the Associated Press reported. The testimonies are expected to continue for up to two weeks.
The alleged victims’ names and number have not been released to the public, and their in-court testimonies are being kept private. Authorities have also withheld specific allegations against Pell from the public — noting only the sexual assault charges are “historical,” meaning Pell allegedly committed the acts decades ago.
Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, had no objections to the prospect of the complainants testifying via video. Richter did, however, question the rationale for allowing one of the alleged victims to testify with a support dog present, saying, “I always thought that dogs were for children and very old people,” according to AP.
“No,” Magistrate Belinda Wallington replied. “They’re also there for vulnerable and traumatized people.”
Richter also questioned why Pell would not be able to appear in court with a priest’s support. Richter argued Pell’s age and medical problems were adequate reasons Pell should be allowed to appear in court with personal support.
The prosecution “has an objection to that support person being a priest, although I can’t understand that,” Richter told Wallington.
Abuse victims and their advocates cheered the charges against Pell as a sign authorities were becoming more responsive to the voices of the abused. Pell, however, has denied all charges and intimated he will enter a not-guilty plea if put before a jury trial. Pell’s lawyers argued in February the complainants were inspired to bring accusations against Pell not by trauma but by news of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and its 2016 inquiry concerning Pell.
Pell’s first accuser came forward 40 years after the alleged crimes in 2015 and was prompted to do so via reports of the inquiry, the lawyers noted.
Pope Francis has not forced Pell to resign and has not passed any judgement on Pell, saying he will wait for the Australian judiciary to complete their justice process and come to a conclusion his input has not influenced. Pell, for his part, said he will continue his work in ministry and in the church’s finances after the case is resolved.
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