One historical sex charge against Vatican finance chief withdrawn

AFP pic

MELBOURNE: Prosecutors Friday withdrew one of multiple historical sexual offence charges against Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell ahead of his committal hearing next week.

The 76-year-old, a top adviser to Pope Francis, has taken leave to fight the allegations which relate to incidents that allegedly occurred long ago.

The exact details and nature of the accusations have not been made public, other than they involve “multiple complainants”.

A preliminary hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Friday was told that one charge would be withdrawn. The Melbourne Herald Sun said it was because the accuser had died.

Pell, who denies all the claims, faces a crucial four-week hearing starting in Melbourne on Monday to determine if he stands trial.

Up to 50 witnesses could be called, with the hearing closed to the media and public for up to two weeks while their accounts are given.

The magistrate will then decide if there is sufficient evidence for the case to go ahead.

Pell, a former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop who is the highest-ranking Catholic official to be charged with historical sex offences, has so far appeared twice in court for preliminary hearings — in July and October last year.

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