News National Cinema abuse allegations: Pell case starts to ring louder

Cinema abuse allegations: Pell case starts to ring louder

george pell march 19
Australia's most senior Catholic leaves court on Monday, March 19. Photo: AAP
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A mobile phone rudely went off in Court 22 at Melbourne Magistrates Court on Monday, much to the disdain of the magistrate Belinda Wallington.

As the sound echoed around the small, airless room Cardinal George Pell jolted up from staring down at his A4 notepad and realised the noise was not coming from the pack of reporters – it was in fact coming from his own beige jacket pocket.

His eminence was emanating.

Cardinal Pell quickly passed the offending device to his friend and supporter Katrina Lee, the Executive Advisor for the Archdiocese of Sydney, to stop the ringing.

But as for the allegations against him, which are emerging thick and fast in his month-long committal hearing, Cardinal Pell had no way to control the noise.

Before lunchtime, during cross-examination of John Bourke, a former projectionist for a cinema in Victoria, it emerged the Vatican treasurer is accused of allegedly abusing a victim in the cinema during a screening of hit Hollywood movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1978.

The hugely popular movie was directed by Steven Spielberg and starred Richard Dreyfuss.

Robert Richter, QC, Cardinal Pell’s lead barrister, asked Mr Bourke if he would have noticed the Cardinal attending the cinema as he knew him from church.

“He’s a distinctive looking gentleman,” Mr Richter suggested.

george pell
The former archbishop for both Melbourne and Sydney strongly denies the accusations. Photo: AAP

Mr Bourke agreed that he had seen the Cardinal before but had not noticed him at the venue.

He explained how his ushers were employed to lead people to their seats as well as deal with “any trouble”.

“They would investigate [if they saw trouble] and take action required and then report to me later,” Mr Bourke told the hearing.

Mr Richter suggested the projectionist would have seen the recognisable Cardinal from his position in his box.

“There are windows,” Mr Richter said.

“When the lights are on you could see who was there … but your best recollection is you never saw George Pell attend that year.”

Mr Richter said Mr Bourke had also got the dates wrong in which the film was screened. He told him he had stated it was screened in March 1978 but a local newspaper advertisement proved the film was screened from September 19 the same year.

Later, the court heard further allegations among cross-examination of witnesses about alleged abuse by the Cardinal when he was in charge of Catholic Education.

Also during the hearing it emerged Simon Acott, a solicitor at Waller Legal which specialises in cases of clergy abuse, was the first person an accuser spoke to in regards to allegations about Cardinal Pell.

Ruth Shann, Cardinal Pell’s senior barrister, asked Mr Acott if he was aware that Viv Waller herself had previous public “stoushes” with the Cardinal.

“Did she express an interest in George Pell being mentioned?” Ms Shann asked.

“Yes, she’s very keen,” Mr Acott said.

He was also asked if he had seen an ABC 7.30 report in July 2016 about allegations about the Cardinal. He said he could not recall if he had.

“It was my job to take a statement about abuse of his [the accuser] experience … I just wrote down the facts,” he said.

Mr Acott also told the court the accuser made allegations about another priest.

The committal case, which last week heard allegations of abuse during a trip to a lake, is expected to last until just before Easter when Ms Wallington is due to announce whether the case will be heard at a higher court for a trial.