MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Release of a book on Vatican Treasurer George Pell just two months before charges were laid against him last year for historical sexual offences may have prejudiced his case, a court heard on Tuesday.
Entering the final week of hearings to decide whether the Australian cardinal will face trial, the author of "Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell", denied she had interfered with the course of justice by rushing publication of her book.
"Your book was intended to pervert the course of justice, was it not?" Pell's lawyer Robert Richter asked author Louise Milligan, a journalist with Australian Broadcasting Corp.
"Absolutely not," she told the court.
Richter accused Milligan and her publishers Melbourne University Press of speeding up publication of the book by two months to May 2017 when they were aware charges against Pell were due to be announced in June.
Otherwise publication of the book, originally scheduled for July, would have been blocked, he said.
Milligan said she had no idea that there was any plan to charge Pell in June, but that her publisher wanted to get the book out because it was "timely".
"Your book was a prejudgment of guilt," Richter said.
"I don't agree with that, because I was very fair to the Cardinal in the book," Milligan said.
Richter told the Melbourne Magistrates' Court that Milligan had used "character assassination" in her book, associating Pell's name with other priests who had been accused of abuse and accepting some allegations made by some accusers at face value.
Pell is the most senior Catholic worldwide to be accused of sexual offences. Details of the charges associated with multiple complainants have not been made public.
Pell's lawyers have said he will plead not guilty to all charges. He is not required to enter a plea unless the magistrate determines there is cause for a full trial.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Michael Perry and Neil Fullick)