MELBOURNE, Australia — An Australian prosecutor on Friday withdrew a single charge against Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic cleric to face a sex prosecution in the country.
The 76-year-old Australian cardinal will appear on Monday in a court in Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city where Pell was once archbishop, for the start of a monthlong preliminary hearing to determine whether prosecutors have sufficient evidence to warrant a jury trial on other charges.
Prosecutor Mark Gibson told the Melbourne Magistrates Court on Friday that one charge had been withdrawn. The move came after the court earlier had been informed that one of Pell’s accusers had died.
Pope Francis’s former finance minister was charged last year with offenses involving multiple complainants in his home state of Victoria. The exact details and nature of the charges have not been disclosed to the public, though police have described them as “historical” sexual assaults, meaning they are alleged to have occurred decades ago.
The potential penalties have not been made public. Pell has vowed through his lawyers to fight the charges.
Pell also has said he intends to continue his work as a prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, a position to which he was appointed by Francis in 2014 once the case is resolved. At the moment, Pell is on a leave of absence granted by the pontiff when the charges against the Australian prelate were filed last year.
Belinda Wallington, the presiding magistrate in the case, on Friday ruled that Pell’s defense team could question one witness about the timing of allegations by others, but not the detail.
Pell’s lawyer, Ruth Shann, said at issue was the timing of complaints.
“The focus is about the timing, but relevant to that particular witness, it is also the timing of the … allegations because of material that we are aware of which makes those people in those locations at that time, in essence, impossible,” Shann said.