Australia: Cardinal George Pell's sex abuse hearing begins


The first two weeks of this month's committal are expected to hear exclusively from the accusers in a closed court.

Cardinal George Pell's lawyers have been challenged by a judge after they questioned the need for complainants to access a support dog while giving evidence.

Pell experienced intense media glare and heavy police presence as he began a month long committal hearing which will decide if there is enough evidence for him to stand trial.

Pope Francis' former finance minister was charged in June of previous year with sexually abusing multiple people in his Australian home state of Victoria.

Pell's defence team said last week that part of their cross-examination would be to determine when the accusers first disclosed he had allegedly abused them, as they try to prove the allegations were a "recent invention".

"These documents are certainly relevant to the alleged offences".

Crown prosecutor Mark Gibson SC explained the dog's role is to lie or sit calmly next to a complainant as they give evidence.

In response to the prosecution's request to use the dog, Mr Richter asked: 'I always thought dogs were there for children and very old people, but if they want a dog ...'

He faces historical sexual offence charges involving multiple complainants.

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"Go to hell George Pell", shouted Valda Ann Hogan, while a supporter, Beverly Hastie, told AFP: "I know him and he is an innocent man, a good man, a holy man and we're here to support him".

They will begin giving evidence this afternoon for up to two weeks, during which time the court will be closed - standard practice in Victoria for cases involving alleged sexual offence charges.

One of charges was withdrawn on Friday, reportedly because the accuser died.

During the brief session, in which Pell coughed but said nothing, his barrister Robert Richter said the defence team had supplied police with many witness statements favourable to the cardinal that they were obliged to investigate.

Richter told Wallington that given Pell's age and medical condition, it was important that he be allowed to be accompanied in court by a supporter.

The former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop and Ballarat priest has taken leave from his position as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy to fight the charges.

Pell, 76, is the highest-ranking Catholic official to be accused of sexual offenses.

Pell testified to the inquiry in a video link from the Vatican in 2016 about his time as a priest and bishop in Australia.