Vatican finance chief awaits decision over sex offences trial


Melbourne (AFP)

Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell faces a nervous wait after a hearing to determine if he will stand trial on historical sexual offence charges adjourned Thursday.

After four weeks of witness statements, and cross-examinations by Pell's lawyers, magistrate Belinda Wallington retired to decide if there is sufficient evidence for the case to go to trial.

A decision is expected some time in April.

The 76-year-old, who is a top adviser to Pope Francis, is on leave and returned to Australia to fight the allegations which relate to incidents that allegedly occurred long ago. He has regularly attended the court.

The exact details and nature of the accusations have not been made public, other than they involve "multiple complainants".

The committal hearing at Melbourne Magistrates Court kicked off on March 5 and has sometimes been fiery, with Pell's lawyer on Wednesday accusing Wallington of being biased towards the prosecutors.

At one point she asked barrister Robert Richter to stop shouting during a legal argument, to which he called on her to "disqualify herself from hearing this matter on the basis of a biased view of the evidence".

Pell, a former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop, is the highest-ranking Catholic official to face historical sex offences. He denies all the charges.

The cleric has not had to enter a plea, although he instructed his lawyer from the outset to make clear he intended to plead not guilty.

During the hearing, Richter accused the police investigation of being a "get Pell operation".

When asked whether this was the case, Superintendent Paul Sheridan replied: "I wouldn't use those words but I guess you could term it the way you did."

Sheridan was one of the officers who travelled to Rome to interview Pell before he was charged.

He confirmed to the court the cardinal was the subject of a dedicated police probe for 12 months before an official complaint was made, the Herald Sun reported.

The court heard two men who made "minor" allegations against Pell had also made serious allegations against other people -- a teacher and a nun.

Sheridan said he could not say why the serious allegations were not investigated, while Pell was.

"Serious allegations ... were put on the back burner and not investigated while minor allegations against Pell were," Richter said.

During the hearing, the defence cross-examined witnesses about their interactions with Pell at several locations, including at a swimming pool, cinema and a lake in rural Victoria state, Melbourne's The Age newspaper reported.