Pell's latest day in court goes off without a hitch

The steam had begun to escape from this Melbourne courtroom sensation.

Less than three months ago George Pell, Prince of the Catholic Church, had barely been able to make his way up the street and through the doors of the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

Crowds had roiled around him, cameras were shoved in his face, invective was thrown at him from one side, cheers from the other and placards were hoisted.

On Friday, he slipped through security without barely a hitch on the way in, no more than an occasional voice from the street following him.

A dozen police officers had been assigned, along with protective service agents, to shepherd him out when this hearing was over, but most of them were not strictly needed.

Most of those in the crowd outside were from the news media, and they knew the rules.

Cardinal George Pell, of course, is never going to be just another defendant.

Dozens of media representatives had gathered on the street, and the queue to ensure a seat in Courtroom Number 1 was long and started early, before the sun was up.

The Wall Street Journal was there along with all the expected Australian media outlets. But there was no Times of London or New York, nor CNN or BBC as there had been in July.

And when Magistrate Belinda Wallington took the bench to hear argument about the admissibility of evidence when the case against Cardinal Pell is finally tested next year, there were more than a dozen seats empty in the public gallery.

Cardinal Pell himself, the great stooped figure familiar to Australians of all stripes, sat behind his barrister, Robert Richter, looking straight ahead, wearing the simple black suit and reversed collar of a mere priest.

A supporter or two reached over to shake his hand. A woman to his right maintained a chatter, smiling cheerily until the court came to order, as if willing the cardinal to keep his spirits up.

There was a period of legal argument as Mr Richter used his persuasive powers to press the case for the evidence of various future witnesses to be admitted.

The magistrate, having sought a couple of times to seek the view of prosecutor Fran Dalziel, eventually ruled that 50 witnesses would be allowed, but the testimony of five others would not.

At issue, it became clear, would be the reliability of memories.

This is a case about a number of historical sexual offences, all of which Pell declares himself not guilty of.

Her Honour Magistrate Wallington set a date for the committal hearing. March 5, 2018. And, she allowed, it would take four weeks. There will be, clearly, a lot of testing of memories.

Twenty minutes after it began, the appearance was over. Cardinal Pell shuffled away.

Outside the courtroom, the dozen police officers waited to form a cordon that, this time, was not entirely necessary.

Within minutes, Cardinal Pell was another figure shuffling along a city street, albeit one trailed by a comet of cameras.

The steam had begun to dissipate; the substance yet to be revealed.

This story Pell's latest day in court goes off without a hitch first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.