SYDNEY – The Australian public prosecutor withdrew one of the multiple charges filed against the Vatican’s financial chief, Cardinal George Pell, who was accused of sexually abusing minors, judicial sources confirmed on Friday.
During a preliminary hearing before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, prosecutor Mark Gibson dropped one charge against Pell on Friday after an accuser died.
A spokesperson for the court confirmed the prosecutor’s decision to EFE, but did not elaborate on other “multiple” accusations against Pell nor the number of charges due to legal restrictions.
On March 25, the 76-year-old prelate is set to return to court for a four-week hearing, in which the judge will determine whether to open a formal trial.
Judge Belinda Wallington confirmed to the lawyers that the interrogations of accusers and witnesses, which are to begin next week, will not “delve into detail that is likely to cause distress” or “to trawl through abuse at the hands of other clergy,” according to the local ABC channel.
During their testimonies, the court will be closed to the public, which is a common practice in Victoria for sexual abuse cases.
Further details on the descriptions and number of claims against Pell remain unknown, but he was alleged to have committed the sexual offenses during his time as a priest in the city of Ballarat between 1976-1980, and while he was archbishop of Melbourne from 1996-2001, both in the state of Victoria.
Pell was granted by Pope Francis a leave from his post as the Prefect of the Secretariat for Economy of the Holy See to face the trial in Australia.
The cardinal has firmly defended his innocence on several occasions.
Victoria Police formally charged Pell at the end of June 2017. The cardinal returned from Rome to Australia to defend himself before the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court shortly after, and appeared for the first time at the end 2017.