Prosecutors seek media ban on trial of Papal aide Pell

Melbourne (AFP) –


The trial of top Papal aide Cardinal George Pell for alleged historic sexual offences could be held in secret after prosecutors on Tuesday sought a blanket ban on media coverage.

Pell's case returns to the Victoria County Court in Melbourne on Wednesday, when trial dates are expected to be set and the judge is due to rule on the media ban.

Pell will be the highest-ranked Catholic to face a jury after being committed to stand trial a fortnight ago. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

But reporting could be off-limits after prosecutors applied for an order to suppress "any report of the whole or any part of these proceedings and any information derived from this proceeding and any court documents associated with this proceeding".

The application was made to "prevent a real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice", amid concerns the 76-year-old may not get a fair trial due to the intense publicity surrounding the case.

It also seeks a media blackout on the number of complainants, the number of charges and the nature of the charges.

Their exact details remain confidential, other than that they involve "multiple charges and multiple complainants" dating from the 1970s and 1990s.

At a hearing earlier this month, Pell's barrister Robert Richter argued that because the charges related to different locations and were 20 years apart, they should be split and heard in two trials.

Pell, a former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop, who has been on leave from the Vatican, was one of Pope Francis's most trusted aides -- handpicked by him in 2014 to make the Church's finances more transparent.

It cemented a meteoric rise by the Australian, who was Archbishop of Melbourne and then Sydney before being named to the Vatican's powerful College of Cardinals at the behest of Pope John Paul II in 2003.