One of the men who had accused Cardinal George Pell of sex offences has died, bringing into question whether some of the charges against Australia’s most senior Catholic can be heard in court.
Damian Dignan, who accused Cardinal George Pell of historic sex offences, died in Victoria on Saturday after a long illness.
The allegations of Mr Dignan prompted Victoria Police to reveal Cardinal Pell was under investigation by Taskforce Sano, investigating claims of sex abuse within Victorian churches.
Crown prosecutors pursuing a case against Cardinal Pell could consider changing the structure of their case and the way charges are grouped following Mr Dignan’s death, according to a top Victorian barrister.
“It’s not an unreasonable quote to say that prosecutors could have a more difficult task now, yes,” former chief Victorian magistrate and crown prosecutor Nicholas Papas told The Australian.
“Normally it requires that the person who has given evidence to be there, and so normally it would be the case that without them there, the prosecution can’t proceed ... but you can’t be absolutely sure.”
Mr Papas said that there were some provisions that allowed for sworn statements and other evidence from accusers or witnesses who have died, to be submitted in court, particularly if they had given evidence under oath or to a commission in the past.
“It’s not unusual for witnesses to die and there are provisions in various bits of legislation that allow for statements to be tendered,” Mr Papas said.
“If they’ve given evidence at a commission or they’ve previously submitted sworn evidence, that might leave open an opportunity for the prosecution to rely on those statements, but you would normally say that (having an accuser pass away) is the end of a prosecution.
“You’d normally expect those who are accused to be entitled to test the statements of the people who are accusing them.”
Victoria Police, who have led the investigation that proceeded to the prosecution, declined to respond to questions on Sunday evening on whether the case could be impacted by the death of Mr Dignan.
Lawyer Ingrid Irwin, who represented Mr Dignan along with another sexual abuse survivor Lyndon Monument, said Mr Dignan left a legacy of inspiring other survivors to come forward to hold the church and their abusers to account.
“He was so brave to have come forward,” she told The Australian.
“He was a lovely man, he was very humble.’’
She expressed regret that his early death meant he would not be able to witness the eventual outcome of court proceedings against Cardinal Pell.
“It’s just a really crappy outcome for him to have gone without being able to witness any tangible change. We can still see resistance from the church rather than any demonstration of responsibility or acceptance,” she said.
Mr Dignan also shared his allegations in ABC journalist Louise Milligan’s book, Cardinal: the Rise and Fall of George Pell.
Ms Milligan tweeted: “Rest in peace, Damian Dignan.”
Cardinal Pell’s representatives did not return calls from The Australian.
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Source : http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/george-pell-accuser-dies-before-case-gets-to-court/news-story/8c459b17a672226ce34811da8ac10c7b