A child rape charge against Vatican Cardinal George Pell has been withdrawn after the accuser was found dead, causing outrage in the family of the victim.
Cardinal George Pell, the highest-ranking Catholic official to be charged with historical sexual offences, is facing a four-week committal hearing in Melbourne regarding allegations of historical sexual abuse dating back decades.
The former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop has taken leave from his position as Vatican treasurer to fight the charges.
Mark Gibson SC, crown prosecutor, told Melbourne magistrates’ court on Friday that the child rape charge was being withdrawn, pending further inquiries into the nature of the sudden and unexpected death.
The withdrawn charge is seen as a blow to securing a guilty verdict against Cardinal Pell, according to prosecutors, as it was seen as an “open shut case.” While Pell is still facing other charges, his legal defense team have outlined plans to secure a not guilty verdict based on the “timing of complaints.”
Cardinal Pell’s barrister, Ruth Shann, said:
“The focus is about the timing, but relevant to that particular witness, it is also the timing of the … allegations because of material that we are aware of which makes those people in those locations at that time, in essence, impossible,” Shann said.
The committal hearing, a preliminary phase under Australian law that will decide if Pell stands trial on historical sexual offence charges, will initially be open to the public as the defence and prosecution finalise further administrative matters, but will quickly move behind closed doors as accusers begin their evidence.
The hearing will be closed to the public and media for two weeks while the complainants give their evidence, as required by law in sexual offence cases.
The Vatican treasurer is facing hundreds of years in prison if found guilty on all charges.
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