Cardinal Pell's lawyer argues no grounds for trial as hearing ends

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Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, outside Rome's Hotel Quirinale, March 3, 2016. Credit: Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA.

As Cardinal George Pell’s pre-trial hearing closes, his lawyer told an Australian court Tuesday that the charges being brought against the cardinal is based on false accusations.

“The allegations are a product of fantasy, the product of some mental problems that the complainant may or may not have, or just pure invention in order to punish the representative of the Catholic Church in this country,” Robert Richter, head of Pell’s defense team, said April 17, according to Reuters.

Richter added that the most serious of the alleged offences could not possibly have occurred, telling the court that the charges brought against Pell, who has been “the face” of the Catholic Church in Australia, “ought to be regarded as impossible and ought to be discharged without batting an eyelid.”

Pell’s attorney additionally cast a shadow over the credibility of some of the complainants, highlighting their inconsistencies with dates, saying that the alleged instances of abuse are “not to be believed,” because they remain “improbable, if not impossible.”

Richter told the court that Pell, who is prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, should not be committed to trial because the evidence did not hold “sufficient weight to support a conviction,” and that a trial would “be a waste of public time, effort and money.”

Prosecutor Mark Gibson said Richter’s statements were speculation, remarking that the defense's arguments do not “fundamentally impact on the reliability of the complainants’ evidence.” He also suggested that Richter’s claims about complainants seeking revenge on the Church were “nothing more than a theory.”

Magistrate Belinda Wallington said that Richter may have taken some arguments “too far,” saying that she believes “issues of credibility and reliability are issues for a jury.”

Pell was not present during the hearing's final day at the Melbourne Magistrates Court. Wallington will determine May 1 whether Pell will be sent to trial.

Pell has been involved in ongoing court proceedings since June 2017, when he was charged with alleged historical sexual abuse crimes in his home state of Victoria dating back to the 1970s. He has maintained his innocence and will plead not guilty if his case proceeds to trial.

“I am innocent of these charges, they are false,” Pell told journalists in June 2017.
 
During the hearing, the Melbourne Magistrates Court heard testimony from 50 witnesses. During this time, Richter launched a counter-attack against the Victorian Police, who opened a special operation in 2013 to investigate Pell. Richter called it “an operation looking for a crime because no crime has been reported.”

Pell, 76, was ordained a priest in Ballarat in 1966. He heads the Secretariat for the Economy and is one of the nine cardinals advising Pope Francis, but has been on leave from his duties since last summer.

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