Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Cardinal Pell to Face Sex Abuse Trial

Cardinal George Pell leaving court in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Credit Joe Castro/EPA, via Shutterstock
Cardinal George Pell to Stand Trial on Historical Sex Offenses - The New York Times

Cardinal Pell, the Vatican's third most highly ranking official, is to stand trial in Australia on several sex-abuse charges. A Melbourne magistrate, Belinda Wallington, found there was sufficient evidence to justify a full trial.

This ruling came after a three-month pretrial hearing during which witnesses described abuse from decades ago. However, the majority of the charges against Pell were either dropped or dismissed, including some of the more serious allegations of abuses which were said to have taken place in a playground, on an altar, on a mountaintop and during a 1970s screening of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” in Ballarat.

Australian law forbids details of the cases being released to avoid prejudicing a fair trial but at this stage in the process, dismissal of these charges is not a finding of innocence, just as the finding to proceed to trial is not a finding of guilt. The decision is based purely on whether the magistrate believes there is sufficient evidence to proceed, without that evidence being subject to cross examination - the function of the full trial.

Cardinal George Pell is the Vatican's head of finances and is the most senior Catholic official to face sex abuse charges to date. He was given leave of absence to return to Australia to face these charges having been widely assumed to have been whisked off the Rome specifically to avoid them in the first place - the Vatican has no extradition treaties, so provides a safe haven for clerics facing criminal charges in other countries.

During his time in the Vatican, he became a controversial figure, plunging the Curia into virtual civil war when he discovered that departments had massive secret bank accounts for which there was no accountability, no record of where the money came from and no record of what it was spent on. At least some of the money was believed to have come from laundering money for criminal gangs. Discovering and confiscating these secret accounts transformed the Vatican's finances from a precarious to a healthy state, far from the near bankruptcy it had seemed to be in. The Vatican had been pleading poverty whilst stashing vast hoards of dirty money in secret bank accounts to be spent on the whim of department head.

However, his reputation for financial probity became severely tarnished when it was revealed that he had also been spending Vatican money on self-aggrandisement, furnishing his luxury Rome apartment. Having got control of the Vatican's finances he was not above helping himself to it.

In November 2014, documents leaked by a Vatican insider to the Italian newspaper, L'Espresso revealed that Pell spent €2508 ($3600) on religious robes at a tailor and about $6650 on kitchen-sink fittings. While Pope Francis adopted a 'humble' lifestyle in modest accommodation within the Vatican and traveled on public transport, Pell flew around the world in business class, employed an 'assistant' from Australia on a salary of $21,600-a-month, spent more than $5100 a month to rent an office and apartment at an upmarket address in Rome and spent nearly $87,000 on furniture for it.

Pope Francis was reported to have intervened personally and asked Pell to try to control his tendency for self-aggrandisement. The fact of this leak revealed just how upset Vatican officials were becoming over Pell taking away their personal slush funds.

According to the New York Times report:

Cardinal Pell was accused in 2016 in hearings before Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse of mishandling misconduct cases against clergy members while he served as the leader of the Archdioceses of Melbourne and Sydney. Then, in 2017, allegations surfaced that he had himself been involved in abuse beginning early in his priesthood and continuing until he became archbishop of Melbourne. He has denied those accusations.

Pell, who was required to surrender his Australian passport, will now stand trial in Melbourne at a date to be decided, meanwhile there are more hearings to determine what evidence is admissible and to set a date for trial.

Watch this space...

Thanks to online G+ friend Viana for the tip off.

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