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Cardinal Pell wears clerical collar to court

Cardinal Pell wears clerical collar to court

Cardinal Pell wears clerical collar to court

Cardinal George Pell today appeared in an Australian court for the start of a four-week pre-trial hearing into charges of historical sexual offences, with his lawyers asking that a support person be allowed to sit with him because of his age and ill health.

He has indicated he will plead not guilty if the committal hearing, which is expected to last a month, finds there is sufficient evidence to warrant a jury trial.

Pell, 76, has repeatedly and vehemently denied the offences he is charged with, which involve multiple complainants.

Pell has taken leave from his position at the Vatican as prefect of the secretariat for the economy to fight the charges.

The hearing will determine whether there is enough evidence against Australian Cardinal George Pell to go to trial.

The court will be closed to the public when witnesses give testimony and are questioned.

He also said the defence should have access to a document outlining how police investigate complaints against prominent people, adding that police would be cross-examined by the defence team.

Crown prosecutor Mark Gibson SC sought permission for witnesses giving evidence to have access to a "victim support dog".

"I'm innocent of these charges, they are false", Pell said.

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Magistrate Belinda Wallington, who is hearing the matter, ruled the defence could question a witness about the timing of the allegations but said "there is no intention to trawl through detail of abuse at the hands of other clergy".

When Pell entered the courtroom shortly after 9am, a woman called out: "Hello, Father".

Magistrate Wallington said she thought the dog was an "excellent initiative" and noted that it is meant to provide support to "vulnerable and traumatised" people.

Pell's barrister Robert Richter QC told the court he had provided 21 statements to police and said they ought to remain in the brief of evidence, as they are relevant to the alleged offences.

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

On Friday prosecutors withdrew one of the charges, relating to a complainant who died after the criminal proceedings began in 2017.

Well, due to Pell's own allegedly "catastrophic" actions, the Catholic Church's reputation has taken another big hit.

After years of alleged coverups and silence from the church over its pedophilia scandal, abuse survivors and their advocates have hailed the prosecution of Pell as a monumental shift in the way society is responding to the crisis. And he did not force the cardinal to resign.

When Pell was promoted in 2014, he was already facing allegations that he had mishandled cases of clergy abuse during his time as archbishop of Melbourne and, later, Sydney.

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