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Vatican’s Pell case adjourned until March

By: AFP

Around 50 witnesses could be called to a hearing in March to determine if there is enough evidence for Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell to stand trial on sex abuse charges, a court heard Friday.

The 76-year-old, a top adviser to Pope Francis, is accused of multiple historical sexual offences relating to incidents that allegedly occurred long ago.

He is the most senior Catholic cleric to be charged with criminal offences linked to the church’s long-running sexual abuse scandal.

The exact details and nature of the allegations against Pell have not been made public, other than they involve “multiple complainants”.

A frail-looking Pell returned to the Melbourne Magistrates Court Friday for a largely administrative matter in which March 5 was set for the start of a four-week committal hearing to decide if there is enough evidence from the prosecution for the case to go to trial.

Many of the details cannot be reported for legal reasons. But Magistrate Belinda Wallington said all witnesses would be allowed except five, meaning some 50 could be called up, including former choirboys.

“It is appropriate to allow people’s memories to be further explored,” she said.

His barrister Robert Richter suggested it was “impossible” that some alleged incidents occurred at a Melbourne cathedral.

“We propose to demonstrate … that what was alleged was impossible,” he told Wallington.

Pell has not had to enter a plea yet, but at his first appearance at the same court in July he instructed his lawyer to make clear he intended to plead not guilty.

“For the avoidance of doubt and because of the interest, I might indicate that Cardinal Pell pleads not guilty to all charges and will maintain the presumed innocence that he has,” Richter said at the time.

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