March 29, 2018 / 7:51 AM / 8 months ago

As questioning ends, Vatican Treasurer's lawyer says no evidence to back charges

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Vatican Treasurer George Pell’s lawyer said on Thursday there was no evidence to support charges of historical sexual offences against the Australian cardinal, after four weeks of questioning accusers and witnesses ended.

Pell, 76, is the most senior Catholic worldwide to face such charges, the details of which have not been made public. His lawyers have said he will plead not guilty to all charges. Pell is not required to enter a plea unless the magistrate presiding over the hearing determines there is cause for a full trial.

Pell’s lawyer Robert Richter will deliver his final submission to the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on April 17 and the prosecution will submit its final response on the same day.

Magistrate Belinda Wallington has yet to say when she will hand down her decision on whether to send Pell to trial.

Richter said the cardinal will be in court when the decision is issued, but said he might not be in court for his final submissions on April 17, citing difficulties of driving up and down from an undisclosed location.

Richter’s defense against the charges focused on problems with police procedure, the reliability of witnesses’ memories and their psychological conditions. The court heard during the hearing that offences allegedly occurred at a swimming pool and movie theater in Victoria state, a church and other locations.

“In the end, other than (two of the accusers) supporting each other, there’s no corroborating evidence for various complainants in this matter,” Richter said at the end of his cross-examination of witnesses.

“I would disagree,” Victoria police detective Sergeant Chris Reed told the court. Reed signed off on the charges against Pell in June 2017.

Richter raised concern that police had failed to follow up on inconsistencies in some accusers’ allegations and had failed to test some basic evidence, such as whether Pell was in the alleged locations in the alleged timeframes.

In one example, nuns at the place where one of his accusers alleged that offences had occurred said Pell had never been there over that period, but police still brought charges based on the accuser’s evidence, Richter told the court.

Cardinal George Pell arrives at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Melbourne, Australia, March 29, 2018. AAP/Joe Castro/via REUTERS

To lay those charges, the prosecution had to be “of a view that the nuns were wrong,” he said.

“I would disagree with that. I would say there were conflicting accounts,” said Reed.

Pell was called back from Rome to his home country last year to face charges of historical sexual offences from multiple complainants. Charges associated with two of the complainants have since been dropped, as one of them died in January and the other is medically unable to testify.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Michael Perry and Neil Fullick

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