Committal hearing for Cardinal George Pell begins

Vatican finance chief faces crucial hearing on abuse claims

Vatican finance chief faces crucial hearing on abuse claims

Australia's most senior cleric Cardinal George Pell will today face an enormous media throng outside the Melbourne Magistrates' Court, for day one of a month-long committal hearing.

Up to 50 witnesses could be called during the four-week committal hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates Court, which will be closed to the media and public for up to two weeks while they give their accounts.

Journalists from 23 local and worldwide news outlets including The New York Times have reserved seats inside the courtroom as Cardinal Pell fights multiple charges relating to multiple complainants.

Since being charged in June 2017, the advisor to the Pontiff has taken leave from his position as Vatican treasurer.

Carol Stingel, who was cross-examined by Richter for four days as part of her 2007 civil rape case against Aboriginal leader Geoff Clark, told CNN the experience was so devastating she believes she should have been treated in the hospital afterwards.

Apart from the first 25 minutes, most of Monday's hearing was closed to the public while the first accuser gave evidence.

"It is a guide to police about how to fairly investigate claims against prominent people", he told the court.

"These documents are certainly relevant to the alleged offences".

Crown prosecutor Mark Gibson SC sought permission for witnesses giving evidence to have access to a "victim support dog". "I know they don't suit the prosecution because they're exculpatory, but they're still there and they're in the possession of the police", he said.

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On Friday the prosecution announced it would withdraw a charge relating to a complainant who died in January.

Australia's longest-running royal commission - which is the country's highest form of inquiry - had been investigating since 2012 how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to sexual abuse of children in Australia over 90 years.

Magistrate Belinda Wallington will then decide if there is sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial.

"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", his barrister Robert Richter said in July.

Richter asked for Pell to have a support person as he gave evidence, saying it was "appropriate" given Pell's age and medical condition.

The case places both the cardinal and the pope in potentially perilous territory.

He has not had to enter a plea, although he has instructed his lawyer from the outset to make clear he meant to plead not guilty.

Well, due to Pell's own allegedly "catastrophic" actions, the Catholic Church's reputation has taken another big hit. And he did not force the cardinal to resign.

Pell was appointed the Vatican's finance chief post despite criticism from victim advocacy groups.

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