MELBOURNE (Reuters) - The pre-trial hearing examining charges against Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell of historical sexual offences re-opened to the public and media on Wednesday following a week of closed evidence from complainants.
Pell, 76, a top adviser to Pope Francis, sat quietly next to his lawyers during the open session at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.
The hearing, scheduled to last four weeks, started on March 5 to determine if prosecutors have enough evidence for a case to be committed to a full trial.
In the open session, Pell’s lawyers called as a witness the father of an alleged victim. The father, who can’t be named under Australian law in case it identifies the alleged victim, told the court he had no reason to suspect his son had been sexually assaulted. The allegation only arose after his son died of what he said was an accidental heroin overdose in 2014.
“I never saw, he never hinted that there was something going on,” the father, who described himself as a practicing Catholic, said via a video link to the court.
He said his son had been in and out of drug rehabilitation centres seven or eight times. The father said his son had said he got hooked on heroin because he enjoyed the drug and had never hinted that he had turned to drugs as a result of sexual abuse.
“It was nobody’s fault he was doing it,” the father said.
Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, also called Bernard Barrett, a researcher for Broken Rites, an organisation that documents cases of alleged abuse by the Catholic Church and advises victims, and accused the group of making up allegations against the church and its clergy.
“You rile against the Catholic Church covering up sex abuse,” Richter said, suggesting it would have been a feather in Barrett’s cap “to pin something on Cardinal Pell.”
Barrett said it was up to alleged victims to lodge complaints with police and denied he was trying implicate Pell.
“Not really. It’s not my concern. It’s up to the complainants,” he said.
Pell’s lawyers have said at previous administrative hearings that Pell will plead not guilty to all charges. Pell is not required to enter a formal plea unless a magistrate determines there is cause for a full trial.
Australian police last year summoned Pell to return to his home country and appear on charges of “historical sexual offences” from multiple complainants. Details of the charges have not been made public.
The court was closed to the public for most of the first 10 days to protect the privacy of people giving evidence.
Pell is on a leave of absence from his Vatican role as Francis’ economy minister, which he started in 2014. The pontiff has said he will not comment on the case until it is over.