Cardinal George Pell, third in seniority after the Pope, will face trial on charges of sexual abuse in a case that has gone on since June last year. The trial will be conducted after a two month long pre-trial hearing by the Melbourne magistrate Belinda Wallington found the evidence sufficient to proceed further.
Who is Cardinal George Pell?
Cardinal Pell, now 76, is the finance chief at the Vatican and the Holy See in Rome. He is the third most important official in the Vatican after Pope and was believed to be succeeding the incumbent Pope. This makes him the most senior Church official ever to be facing trial for historical sexual abuse charges. He has held many senior positions in the Catholic church in Australia e.g. the Archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne. He was appointed to the Vatican Church in 2014.
He was one of the inner circle of nine cardinals chose by Pope Francis to deal with issues such as sexual abuse of children by the clergy, fixing account books and financial reforms. The Pope had declined to remove Cardinal Pell after pressure mounted over the way in which the Church was handling such issues.
The sexual abuse charges
He was charged with historical sexual offences in June last year by Australian police. He took leave from the Vatican to appear for hearings which began on March 5, 2018. The magistrate Belinda Wallington was to determine if there are enough grounds for the Cardinal to stand trial. Majority of the charges have been withdrawn by the prosecution or dismissed during the course of the trial. Some of the charges even date back to the 1970s.
In 2016, in hearings before the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Cardinal Pell was accused of mishandling cases against clergy members while he was the leader of the Archdioceses of Melbourne and Sydney. The allegations emerged that he himself was involved in abuse since his priesthood days.
Robert Richter, the Cardinal’s lawyer, had expressed confidence that there is ample evidence to prove his client’s innocence. He added that his client is being targeted due to the failure of the Church to protect sexual abuse victims. Beginning May 2nd there are two more hearings to determine the evidence which will be admissible in the court.
Reports from his hometown, Ballarat, a town near Melbourne, suggest that the sexual abuse of children was going on since the 1960s and the Catholic clergy of child sex abusers had targeted generations that has resulted in broken families, fatherless drug addicted kids and the victims committing suicide. One Gerald Ridsdale, the former chaplain of a primary school was imprisoned for sexually abusing 65 school children between 1960s and 1980s.
A book by one Louise Milligan, who works for Australia’s ABC network, titled ‘Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell’, triggered the police to file abuse charges. The author had interviewed the accusers for more than a year for cases that are decades old.
Implications of the sexual abuse trial
Cardinal Pell had himself acknowledged that the Roman Catholic Church had been unsuccessful in protecting the thousands of children who have been abused the priests.