Muzzled by the media

Muzzled by the media

Cardinal George Pell © Robert Duncan (KNA)

Australian Curia Cardinal George Pell has been on leave as Vatican finance chief since June 2017. Criminal trial begins against him in Melbourne, on two counts of sexual assault. He is currently not allowed to leave Australia.

The main trial of Curia Cardinal George Pell over two sexual assault cases begins this Monday in Melbourne. The 77-year-old Vatican finance chief is the highest-ranking church official to date to stand trial in a secular court over abuse allegations. Media banned from reporting due to Australian legal situation.

Charges are also unknown

This ban includes reports of the ban itself. "The publication ban applies to all states and territories in Australia and to all websites or other electronic (media) or broadcast formats accessible in Australia," the prosecution's motion to protect the judge and jury from interference by the public said. The ban will remain in effect until the end of the trial, including a possible appeal hearing.

The charges are also officially unknown. But it is an open secret in Australia that two cases are at stake: in the 1970s, while a priest in Ballarat, Pell allegedly sexually molested several teenage males in a swimming pool. The second case involves allegations that Pell, as archbishop in the 1990s, forced choirboys to perform oral sex in the vestry of Melbourne Cathedral.

Pell vigorously denies the charges

"Not guilty," he declared at a hearing in April. Pell has been granted a leave of absence by Pope Francis for the duration of the trial. The two charges will be heard separately. According to reports, the proceedings now beginning will first deal with the cathedral case.

Media experts critical of legal ban on media coverage of criminal trials. According to a study by Jason Bosland of the Centre for Media and Communications Law at the University of Melbourne, the suppression of reporting is handled excessively by the courts there.

Central role in Australian abuse scandal

As Archbishop of Melbourne, he set first standards for clearing up and dealing with abuse cases. But as a priest in Ballarat, Pell himself is alleged to have been involved in covering up abuse cases, according to findings of the state abuse commission.

Before trial began, cardinal publicly demonstrated composure. In mid-July, he was in good spirits in Sydney attending the engagement party of the daughter of Sydney Archdiocese Chancellor Chris Meney, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported.

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