March 15, 2018 / 7:02 AM / 2 years ago

Lawyers for Vatican treasurer question accusers in Australian court

(Note: Language in paragraph 14 that might offend some readers)

Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell is assisted by an Australian policeman as he gets out of a car upon arriving at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court in Australia, March 15, 2018. AAP/Joe Castro/via REUTERS

By Sonali Paul

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Lawyers for Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell questioned family members of two of his accusers during a second day of open testimony in a pre-trial hearing into charges of historical sexual offences in an Australian court on Thursday.

Australian-born Pell, 76, a top adviser to Pope Francis, was summoned by police last year and is the most senior Catholic official to face such charges. Details of the charges have not been made public.

Pell’s lawyers have said at previous administrative hearings he will plead not guilty to all charges. Pell is not required to enter a formal plea unless a magistrate determines there is cause for a full trial.

His lawyer, Robert Richter, questioned the fathers and a brother of two of his accusers about statements they had given to police about when and where certain events were alleged to have taken place and when they became aware of them.

The court was told the father of one of the accusers never identified Pell in his statement to police and that he had first heard about the possibility his son might have been sexually abused in July 2015, long after the events were alleged to have taken place.

“Did you ask whether he was abused by Father Pell?” Richter asked the father, who cannot be identified because that would identify one of the alleged victims.

The father replied: “I cannot remember the details. I was more concerned about the fact that he had been abused by priests.”

He said neither he nor anyone in his family had seen anything improper at the alleged location of the abuse, where their local church had hosted a water-skiing outing.

Pressed on whether anyone had seen anything “untoward”, he said he didn’t know what Richter was getting at.

“Improper. Sexual. Abusive,” Richter said, to which the father replied: “No.”

The father and brother of another accuser said they first heard about the alleged abuse in mid-2015, about a month before they were questioned by police about accusations against Pell.

The second father said he could not recall any occasion when his son had behaved oddly after being around priests.

The father’s younger son said his brother had made allegations about an earlier incident.

The younger son recalled driving his brother home from a family party and hearing his brother, who was drunk, say: “Some fucked up stuff has happened to me.”

The hearing in the southern city of Melbourne was later adjourned until Monday by Magistrate Belinda Wallington over a matter unrelated to Pell’s case.

The court was closed to the public for most of the first 10 days of the hearing to protect the privacy of people giving evidence.

The hearing to determine whether there is enough evidence to go to trial is scheduled to continue until the end of March.

Pell is on a leave of absence from his Vatican role as Francis’ economy minister, which he started in 2014. The pontiff has said he will not comment on the case until it is over.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Paul Tait and Neil Fullick

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