Cardinal George Pell pleads not guilty to historical sexual offence charges after being committed to stand trial

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Report by Emma Younger of the ABC

Cardinal George Pell has been committed to stand trial on multiple historical sexual offences but the most serious of the charges have been struck out.

Magistrate Belinda Wallington has ruled there is enough evidence to commit Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric to stand trial on about half of the offences he was charged with.

Cardinal Pell has pleaded not guilty and strenuously denies the allegations.

A number of onlookers applauded as the magistrate left the court room after delivering her 70-minute ruling.

Defence barrister Robert Richter QC said the most “vile” of the charges had been dismissed.

Cardinal Pell will stand trial on charges relating to alleged sexual offending at a pool in Ballarat in the 1970s and at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in the 1990s when he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

Among the charges that were dismissed were allegations Cardinal Pell committed sexual offences at a cinema and chapel in the regional Victorian city of Ballarat in the 1970s, when he was a priest in that area.

In throwing out one charge, Ms Wallington said the complainant involved demonstrated such a “cavalier attitude” to giving evidence that a jury couldn’t put any weight on it.

And she ruled inconsistencies in one of the complainant’s evidence had to be examined in the context of a “fundamental defect in the evidence”.

“The evidence as a whole is not a sufficient weight for a jury to convict,” she said.

Cardinal Pell will face a directions hearing in the County Court tomorrow morning, when it is expected a date will be set for a trial before a jury.

He is on bail and has already handed in his passport, the court heard.

He is unable to leave Australia as a condition of his bail.

Today’s ruling follows a month-long committal hearing in March.

The first 10 days of the hearing were closed to the public and media as the complainants gave their evidence, which is standard practice in cases involving sexual offence charges.

Their evidence remains confidential.

A number of the charges were also dropped before today’s hearing, due to the death of one of the complainants and another being found medically unfit to give evidence.

Ms Wallington took a fortnight to consider her decision on whether to commit Cardinal Pell to stand trial.

The Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, declined to make any comment on the decision.

“Archbishop Hart expressed his confidence in the judicial system in Australia and said that justice must now take its course,” the Archdiocese of Melbourne said in a statement.

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