April 17, 2018 / 6:49 AM / 5 months ago

Vatican Treasurer Pell's lawyer says no grounds for trial, court to rule May 1

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Vatican Treasurer George Pell’s lawyer told a court on Tuesday the Australian archbishop should not be sent to trial on any of the multiple charges of historical sexual offences against him.

Vatican Treasurer Cardinal George Pell is surrounded by Australian police as he leaves the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Australia, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Dadswell

In a final submission to the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court following a month of pre-trial hearings, Pell’s lawyer Robert Richter said “public time and money ought not to be wasted” on a trial. Evidence showed the worst of the alleged offences could not have occurred, he said.

“To the extent that it’s possible to demonstrate anything, their complaints ought to be regarded as impossible and ought to be discharged without batting an eyelid,” Richter told the court.

Magistrate Belinda Wallington will hand down her decision on whether to send Pell to trial on May 1.

Pell, 76, was not present in court on Tuesday. He is the highest ranking Catholic worldwide to face such charges, the details of which have not been made public.

His lawyers have said he will plead not guilty to all charges. He is not required to enter a plea unless the magistrate determines there is cause for a full trial.

Richter said the facts around dates of events and the whereabouts of the person who had made the most serious accusations, including an alleged offence at a movie theatre, showed the offences could not have happened.

“He’s just not a person that can be believed by a jury. That’s quite apart from the improbability of his account at the cinema,” Richter said.

He said the other charges were “reasonably insignificant” and should not be grounds to commit Pell to trial as the accusers tied to them had made inconsistent statements and were unreliable.

Wallington played down the impact that argument would have on her decision.

“I think issues of credibility and reliability are issues for a jury, except where you get to the point where credibility is annihilated,” she said.

On the most recent alleged offences, dating back 22 years, Richter said the accuser had targeted Pell as part of a broader agenda against the Catholic Church, a contention prosecutor Mark Gibson said was pure speculation.

“The allegations are the product of fantasy, the product of some mental problems that the complainant may or may not have, or just pure invention in order to punish the representative of the Catholic church in this country for not stopping abuse...,” Richter said.

He urged Wallington to bear in mind that Pell voluntarily returned to Australia from the Vatican to face the charges, rather than using the diplomatic immunity to which he was entitled. But Wallington said the point was irrelevant.

“The cardinal came to this court an innocent man,” Richter said. “What is sought here is a destruction of a reputation by having the cardinal committed in the hope that an unreasonable jury might convict him on something.”

Prosecutor Gibson said none of the complainants had resiled from their allegations against Pell under cross-examination.

“What your honour has heard thus far really amounts to a conflict in the evidence, which ought to be decided by a jury rather than by your honour,” Gibson told the court.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Michael Perry and Neil Fullick

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