Court likely to withdraw charge of key accuser in Cardinal Pell abuse case

Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, speaks with CNA at the Vatican, March 17, 2016. Credit: Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA.
Cardinal George Pell, prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, speaks with CNA at the Vatican, March 17, 2016. Credit: Alexey Gotovskiy/CNA.

.- The Melbourne Magistrates Court heard Wednesday that a charge related to a key witness in the case against Cardinal George Pell, accused of historical sexual abuse, is likely to be withdrawn.

In the Feb. 14 hearing, the director of prosecutions for the Melbourne Magistrates Court said that while they had not decided on the matter, the charge of a key complainant who died in January would likely be withdrawn.

Defense attorney Ruth Shann argued against the man's credibility, saying Pell's legal team would be examining the credibility of the “unreliable” witness when the formal four-week committal hearing begins March 5.

The witness, Damian Dignan, who died of leukemia in early January, and a fellow classmate at St. Alipius school in Ballarat accused Pell in 2016 of inappropriate sexual behavior when they were minors. The cardinal had previously been accused of acts of child sexual abuse dating as far back as 1961.

Shann said Dignan's complaints – which he made to Australia's Royal Commission in 2015, nearly 40 years after the alleged abuse, after reading about other cases in the commission in newspapers – had a “domino effect” in terms of other people contacting the police.

She said Pell's lawyers had subpoenaed material from the Dignan's lawyer and that they would pursue material connected to his complaint whether it was included as part of the case or not, since he was the “starting point,” and other accusers who spoke out after can't be understood without first dealing with their knowledge of Dignan's own complaint.

Pell's legal team last week subpoenaed medical records for other complainants to build their argument, however, the magistrate overseeing Wednesday's hearing, Belinda Wallington, denied the request due to a lack of what she believed was “substantial probative value” in the case.

She also questioned a request for a complainant's medical records from Justice Health, which provides medical services for Victorian prisoners, saying she would delay her decision until a hearing next week, the Australian reports.

This week's hearing took place Feb. 14 in Melbourne, and is the latest step in the ongoing case against the cardinal, who in June 2016 was charged by Victoria state police of multiple instances of historical sexual abuse.

After the charges were announced, Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy and a member of the Pope's council of nine cardinal advisers, was granted leave from his post by Pope Francis in order to return to Australia for the trial.

Cardinal Pell, who was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Ballarat in 1966, has pled not guilty to the multiple counts of sexual abuse, and has maintained his innocence from the beginning.

“I am innocent of these charges, they are false,” he told journalists June 29, 2017, after the charges were announced, adding that “the whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me.”

Pell has testified multiple times before Australia’s Royal Commission denying abuse charges and is known to have spoken out against sexual abuses in the past.

“It is important to recall that Card. Pell has openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable the acts of abuse committed against minors,” stated Holy See spokesman Greg Burke last summer.

However, Burke also underscored the importance of respecting the proceedings of the Australian justice system, which will ultimately “decide the merits of the questions raised.”

Tags: Australia, Sex abuse