News National An anxious Easter marks the start of George Pell’s wait for a decision
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An anxious Easter marks the start of George Pell’s wait for a decision

Cardinal George Pell (R) flanked by his barrister Robert Richter QC. Photo: Getty
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Easter celebrations are unfolding in earnest at the Vatican in springtime Rome.

As tradition dictates, Pope Francis will hold Easter Sunday Holy Mass in Saint Peter’s Square with up to 80,000 worshippers.

At noon the Pope will then give the Easter message and blessing, called Urbi et Orbi from the central “loggia” – balcony.

But there is a senior figure missing in the midst of all this pomp.

Cardinal George Pell, effectively the Vatican’s treasurer, will not be in his 16th Century tower in the city or attending mass in the Basilica. Instead, he’ll be at a seminary in Sydney 16,000 km away.

The 76-year-old is starting a tense wait for a decision from a Melbourne magistrate as to whether he will face a trial by jury for multiple allegations of historic sexual abuse. 

And it could take some time.

Being stationed at the heart of church power at the Holy See was meant to be the swan song to an upwardly mobile career. But as it stands, Ballarat-born Dr Pell is stuck in his native country, deeply enmeshed in the slow-moving Victorian criminal justice system.

He was first charged by Victoria Police in June last year. Months of brief court mentions followed, two of which he attended amid a frenzied media bait ball wrapping around the corner of William Street and Lonsdale Street in the centre of Melbourne.

And for the past four weeks he has been driven by a chauffeur to the court each day to listen to the cross-examination of around 50 witnesses, including accusers, regarding allegations that he committed abuse at a number of locations in Victoria. The Cardinal strongly denies all the allegations against him.

His famously forensic barrister, Robert Richter, 72, has certainly earned his daily fee, doggedly interrogating many of those in the witness stand during the committal hearing.

On Wednesday this week Mr Richter’s even turned his attention towards the magistrate herself as he demanded she be stood down for showing “bias” over a disputed date a movie was screened in the late 1970s.

However, Ms Wallington immediately rejected the application telling Richter: “Your application is refused.” 

Also on Wednesday the court heard “Operation Tethering” began within Sano Task Force in 2013 to seek “intel” on Dr Pell who moved over to the Vatican in 2014.

Mr Richter suggested the motivation was to “get Pell” and then, in a later hearing, further suggested the police were under “political and public” pressure to investigate Dr Pell and deepened their investigation because of the royal commission hearings in Ballarat.

Mr Richter also claimed Victoria Police failed to carry out a proper investigation.

He said proper procedure was not followed in terms of interviewing potential witnesses before interviewing the Cardinal in Rome, failing to seek Pell’s diaries, improper note-taking and failing to look into the psychological history of the accusers.

He said officers also failed to ask “obvious questions” which could have stopped some of the charges from being laid against Cardinal Pell.

Earlier in the week Mr Richter accused ABC reporter Louise Milligan of “poisoning the public’s mind” with a 7.30 report on Cardinal Pell and later a book.

In tense scenes Ms Milligan strongly rejected the accusations.

On the final day of the hearing an advocate, who has regularly held placards outside the court, came into Court 22 before the hearing began to place a large chocolate Easter egg on the Cardinal’s seat.

Julie Cameron told The New Daily that she was an advocate for “survivors of clergy abuse” and she wanted to do the “Christian thing” by making an offering to Pell, as it was Holy Thursday.

On receiving the egg Cardinal Pell turned and thanked Mrs Cameron.

The cardinal will now have to wait for a decision by Ms Wallington on whether the case will go to trial at a higher court.

The defence and prosecution will make verbal submissions on April 17 but Dr Pell has been excused from attending. A decision will then be handed down.