SYDNEY – Australian prosecutors have accused 13 media groups and 23 journalists of contempt of court for allegedly defying legal restrictions in their coverage of Cardinal George Pell’s trial for child sex abuse, according to a court summon made public on Tuesday.
The Director of Public Prosecution in Victoria has charged the media houses, including The Herald, Weekly Times, The Age, Fairfax Media and News Life, for breaching the gag order on the trial with “a tendency to prejudice or interfere with the due administration of justice in the prosecution of Pell.”
The prosecution has sought the accused journalists and media houses be “adjudged guilty of contempt,” fined and sent to jail “on the basis that their publications had the effect of scandalizing the court.”
According to the prosecution, the media houses and journalists have breached the suppression order by Judge Peter Kidd prohibiting reporting of the trial of the former Vatican treasurer who was convicted for sexually abusing two minors in a guilty verdict handed down on Dec. 11.
Judge Kidd barred media from reporting about the verdict until Feb. 26 to avoid it from influencing another sexual abuse allegation against the Vatican’s former chief financial officer.
Despite the suppression order, several international media groups published news stories about the Dec. 11 verdict. But the local media largely refrained from covering it until the order was removed.
Those charged by the prosecutors for breaching the order have been asked to appear before the Supreme Court of Victoria at Melbourne on April 15.
Pell, 77, once the most senior member of the Catholic Church in Australia, was sentenced on March 13 to six years in prison for one offence of sexual penetration of a child under 16 years and four offences of committing an indecent act with or in the presence of another child, also less than 16.
The crimes were committed in December 1996 and early 1997.
Judge Kidd said the cardinal would have to serve three years and eight months of his sentence before being able to ask for parole.
He was also ordered to sign the sex offender register, making him a registered sex offender for life.