15 May

Cardinal George Pell’s Sexual Abuse Trials May Be Held in Secret

Cardinal George Pell’s Sexual Abuse Trials May Be Held in Secret

Cardinal George Pell, a senior Vatican official accused of sexual abuse, appeared in court in Melbourne, Australia, this month. A trial held behind closed doors would limit accountability for the judge, jury and lawyers in the case.CreditDaniel Pockett/EPA, via Shutterstock

By Damien Cave

Maybe now justice will be served.

This has been going on since June 2002, when Pell was accused by a Melbourne man of having sexually abused a 12-year-old boy at a Catholic youth camp in 1961, whilst he was a young seminarian. Pell denied the accusations and stood aside while the inquiry continued.

The complainant agreed to pursue his allegations through the church’s own process for dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct, the National Committee for Professional Standards. Retired Victorian Supreme Court Justice Alec Southwell, appointed Commissioner by the church to investigate the matter, found that the complainant, despite his long criminal record, had mostly given the impression of “speaking honestly from actual recollection” but concluded as follows: “bearing in mind the forensic difficulties of the defence occasioned by the very long delay, some valid criticism of the complainant’s credibility, the lack of corroborative evidence and the sworn denial of the respondent, I find I am not ‘satisfied that the complaint has been established'”.

Pell said he been exonerated, while the complainant’s solicitor said his client had been vindicated.

Finally On 29 June 2017, Victoria Police charged Pell with sexual assault offences with several counts and several victims. In a press conference, Pell stated that he would return to Australia and that “I’m looking forward, finally, to having my day in court” and “I’m innocent of those charges. They are false”.

On 26 July 2017, while not required to attend in person, he appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court for a filing hearing represented by barrister Robert Richter QC and, although not required at this stage of the court committal process, he entered a plea of not guilty.

An application by the media seeking the public disclosure of the details of the charges was refused by the Magistrate.

The McGlynn

SYDNEY, Australia — An Australian court is to decide on Wednesday whether two planned trials for Cardinal George Pell, the senior Vatican official accused of sexual abuse, will be conducted in secret with the public barred from knowing what took place until the proceedings are over.

On Friday, prosecutors in the state of Victoria applied for a “super injunction” against news coverage of the separate trials. Legal experts described the application as an extreme move aimed at keeping juries in both cases from learning anything that might cause bias.

But a trial held behind closed doors would also limit accountability for the judge, jury and lawyers in the case.

“The proposed order is a blanket ban and is the most extreme form of order that can be made,” said Jason Bosland, deputy director of the Centre for Media and Communications Law at Melbourne Law School.

Similar restrictions have already kept private the details and number of charges Cardinal Pell faces, but the proposed injunction would prohibit “any report of the whole or any part of these proceedings and any information derived from this proceeding and any court documents associated with this proceeding.”

The injunction, if approved, would apply to “all states and territories of Australia and on any website or other electronic or broadcast format accessible within Australia.”

Cardinal Pell is the highest ranking Catholic official to be charged with sexual abuse — technically “historical sexual offenses,” as defined by Australian law — and his case is being followed closely worldwide.

He was a major figure in the Vatican for years, and served as Pope Francis’ finance chief, the third-highest-ranking official in the church.

As recently as June, Cardinal Pell dined at a luxury restaurant with Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and discussed holding public debates that would challenge the established science on climate change.

The charges landed a few weeks later. He returned to Australia and his home state of Victoria, where he served as a priest and bishop, and has vigorously denied the charges against him.

Legal experts said public attention has become a weapon wielded by lawyers on both sides, with potential risks to each.

The prosecutors’ request to bar news coverage appears aimed at heading off a possible attempt by Cardinal Pell’s lawyers to argue that unprecedented publicity would make it impossible for fair trials to occur — especially the second trial, which in theory, could be prejudiced by reporting on the first.

In 2010, lawyers representing one of Australia’s most notorious serial killers, Peter Dupas, made a similar argument to Australia’s High Court, insisting that his trial over the murder of Mersina Halvagis should be dismissed because of previous publicity. That attempt failed.

But Cardinal Pell’s profile may be even higher, given the decades in which he has had a prominent public role in Australia, and it is not clear whether the judge will side with privacy or transparency.

Super injunctions have become increasingly common in Victoria courts, and the scope of the requested ban is as wide as possible, with the potential to shroud even innocuous information.

News outlets, for example, may not even be able to report when or where the trial is happening, or even why that information cannot be shared.

“It prevents publication of all details to do with the case, including the fact that proceedings are on foot and, indeed, that a suppression order has been issued,” Professor Bosland said. “You can’t even publish the judge’s name.”


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George Hastings

Thanks for posting this Dick. I have been following the Cardinal Pell story for many months now, but had not heard this latest story about making the trial secret. I do give Pope Francis much credit for forcing Pell to return to Australia for trial. But the whole idea of secret trials gives me the creeps. Tough issue.

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