Australian officials announced Tuesday the most senior Vatican official accused of sex crimes will face trial on charges of sexual abuse.
Attorneys for Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s treasurer, failed to persuade the Australian court to dismiss the charges against him after alleged victims of sex abuse at Pell’s hand delivered testimony via video link in March, according to The Associated Press. Magistrate Belinda Wallington dismissed half of the charges levied against Pell on Tuesday, but ruled that the remainder of the charges warranted a trial.
Pell stands accused of sexually molesting multiple individuals in his home in Victoria over a period spanning from the 1970s, when he served as a priest, to the 1990s, when he served as archbishop of Melbourne. Authorities have not released the details of the allegations against Pell or the names of the alleged victims. The alleged victims who testified during the four-week preliminary hearing in March did via video link from an undisclosed location so as to avoid a barrage of media attention. Wallington dismissed charges based on the weakness of certain alleged victim’s testimonies.
“It is difficult to see how a jury could convict on the evidence of a man who has said on his affirmation that he cannot recall what he said a minute ago,” Wallington said of an alleged victim she deemed an “unsatisfactory witness,” according to the AP.
Clerical abuse victim advocates hailed the decision to move forward with Pell’s trial as an example of holding church leaders accountable.
“Whatever its outcome, the judge’s decision marks the victory of accountability over impunity, and of the rule of secular law over the Vatican’s failed strategy of cover-up,” said Anne Barrett Doyle, of BishopAccountability.org, according to the AP.
Pell has denied all accusations and maintained that he is innocent. Pope Francis granted Pell a leave of absence in 2017 so that he could focus his efforts on his legal defense. Francis has refrained from issuing a judgement on Pell, whether of guilt or innocence, deferring to Australia’s judiciary process. Vatican spokesman Greg Burke issued a statement affirming that Pell’s leave of absence was still in place.
“The Holy See has taken note of the decision issued by judicial authorities in Australia regarding His Eminence Cardinal George Pell,” Burke said, according to the AP. “Last year, the Holy Father granted Cardinal Pell a leave of absence so he could defend himself from the accusations. The leave of absence is still in place.”
Pell pleaded “not guilty” to the charges for which he will face trial and will appear in court on Wednesday in Victoria. A date for his trial has yet to be determined. He cannot leave Australia from now throughout the duration of his trial.
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