Former Vatican treasurer George Pell will remain in prison after an Australian appeals court rejected the disgraced cardinal’s appeal against his conviction for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys in the mid-1990s.
The most senior Catholic official to be convicted of child sexual assault, Pell was sentenced in March to six years in prison, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months, for an attack described by Chief Judge Peter Kidd as “breathtakingly arrogant.”
Lawyers for the 78-year-old cardinal immediately appealed his conviction, and in June presented 13 “solid obstacles” to a guilty verdict on all five charges, including that it was “not possible” for Pell to be alone while robed after Sunday mass and for no one to notice the boys were missing at that time.
On Wednesday, the appeals court rejected that submission, accepting that it was possible for the jury to have found Pell guilty beyond reasonable doubt, based on the evidence presented at Pell’s five-week trial last December.
“There has been vigorous and sometimes emotional criticism of the Cardinal and he has been publicly vilified in some sections of the community,” said Chief Justice Anne Ferguson as she delivered a summary of the judgment. “It is fair to say that his case has divided the community.”
From the dock in court 15, Pell showed little reaction as Chief Justice Ferguson delivered Wednesday’s verdict, which followed more than two months of deliberation between three judges who returned a majority ruling, two votes for and one against. Pell listened intently during the summary, staring straight at the judge.
Pell’s accuser, who can’t be named under Australian law, said he was “relieved” by the verdict.
“After attending the funeral of my childhood friend, the other choirboy, I felt a responsibility to come forward… I had experienced something terrible as a child, something that marked my life. I wanted at least some good to come of it,” he said in a statement read by his lawyer, Viv Waller.
The father of his childhood friend, who also can’t be identified, said the ruling had taken a “weight off his shoulders.”
“I believe in forgiveness, but you can’t forgive someone who does things like that, especially to 13-year-old children,” he said.
After the hearing, Pell was taken away to continue serving his sentence on one count of sexual penetration of a child and four counts of committing an indecent act with a child.
A statement released on his behalf said the cardinal is “obviously disappointed” with the decision and “maintains his innocence.” His legal team will examine the judgment to determine whether to challenge the ruling in the High Court, it added.
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Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy: AFP
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