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Cardinal Pell's defense calls for historical abuse charges to be dropped

The lead barrister defending senior Vatican official Cardinal George Pell against historical abuse charges has argued...

Posted: Apr 17, 2018 1:03 PM
Updated: Apr 17, 2018 1:03 PM

The lead barrister defending senior Vatican official Cardinal George Pell against historical abuse charges has argued for the case to be dropped because a trial would be a "waste of public money, time and effort."

Robert Richter QC made the arguments at a court in Melbourne Wednesday, on the final day of submissions before Magistrate Belinda Wallington.

Wallington will announce on May 1 whether the case will proceed to trial, after weeks of testimony from accusers and witnesses to the alleged abuse.

Pell, 76, was charged last June and given leave by Pope Francis from the Vatican to contest the charges in his native country. Pell vigorously denies all allegations.

'Attempt to destroy' his reputation

Tuesday gave both prosecution and defense a final chance to convince the magistrate why the case should or should not go to trial.

Defense attorney Richter attacked the credibility of Pell's accusers saying; "Whether they are the product of fantasy or mental problems ... or just pure invention ... it's in order to punish the representative of the Catholic Church in this country [Australia] for not stopping abuse by others."

Richter argued the fact that Pell did not seek diplomatic immunity in the Vatican, and answered all police questions willingly, helped show his innocence.

CNN revealed exclusively in January Pell has been staying at a seminary in Sydney during the case. He was excused from appearing Tuesday but will attend for the final decision in two weeks.

Richter told the court that the accusers were simply trying to "destroy" the Cardinal.

"It ought to be difficult to destroy someone's reputation and more difficult to get them locked up," said Richter.

"What is sought here is the destruction of the reputation to get the Cardinal committed, and get an unreliable jury to get him convicted for something."

Richter also argued that a trial would be unfair to Pell,"as a 76-year-old distinguished man who has given his life to serving the church."

"There is no prospect of the complaints going up as they are wrong."

Richter argued the complaints by accusers were "lies" and made amid an unfair "backdrop of innuendo."

Weeks of evidence

Dozens of witnesses recounted allegations during three weeks of testimony in March, that Pell took advantage of his position of trust to commit the alleged abuse.

The court heard that Pell allegedly abused an accuser during a visit to a lake in the 1970s. Pell was said to have been invited along with another priest by a large Catholic family he knew, to join them for water skiing and afternoon tea.

The Cardinal is also alleged to have committed abuse at a swimming pool where he was seen interacting with swimmers over several summers in the 1970s.

Richter asserted that all the accusers and witnesses regarding alleged abuse by Pell at the Australian swimming pool in the 1970s had told "monstrous lies."

"Every one of them has told lies, monstrous lies ... and their credibility is very much at stake ... the others just want to support them."

'Character assassination'

Richter said a book by an Australian journalist published last May on the Cardinal, containing evidence from some of the accusers, meant he could not get a fair trial.

He said the book; "Cardinal: The rise and fall of George Pell," by Louise Milligan was a "character assassination," and had been written in pursuit of "fame and fortune."

He also criticized the accusers for leaking their police reports to the writer and said they changed their accounts in the book.

Richter said "multiple unreliable witnesses" should mean that there should not be a trial at a higher court.

"It does not lead to a conclusion that there is a strong and probable cause to commit ... there should be a case capable of proving to a jury that it is beyond reasonable doubt and that is not the case here."

Prosecutor rejects 'attack'

After Richter made his two-hour long submission Mark Gibson, the lead prosecutor, told the magistrate he rejected key areas of the defense arguments.

Gibson rejected Richter's "attack" on the credibility of the complainants and the way the police operation was conducted by officers from the SANO Task Force, which was established by the state of Victoria to investigate historic and new abuse allegations.

"It does not fundamentally impact on the reliability of the evidence," Gibson said.

The Cardinal may have "forgotten things or overlooked things" when asked questions by police, Richter conceded.

"For him it was 40 years ago and he's consistent and adamant that none of these incidences took place."

He said there wasn't a "sufficiently persuasive scenario" that a jury of "reasonable" people would be able to say he's guilty. "You just don't have it," he said.

Pell is expected to be in court when Magistrate Wallington releases her decision on May 1.

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