Australia’s highest court agrees to hear Cardinal Pell’s appeal in sex abuse case

In this Feb. 26, 2019, file photo, Cardinal George Pell arrives at the County Court in Melbourne, Australia. Pell, the most senior Catholic to be found guilty of sexually abusing children, will learn whether Australia's highest court will hear his appeal against convictions for molesting two choirboys in a Melbourne cathedral two decades ago. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill, File)

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia's highest court agreed Wednesday to hear an appeal from the most senior Catholic to be found guilty of sexually abusing children, giving Cardinal George Pell his last chance at getting his convictions overturned.

The decision by the High Court of Australia comes nearly a year after a unanimous jury found Pope Francis' former finance minister guilty of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne's St. Patrick's Cathedral in the late 1990s, shortly after Pell became archbishop of Australia's second-largest city.

Advertisement

The 78-year-old was sentenced to six years in prison in March and is no longer a member of Francis' Council of Cardinals or a Vatican official. The Victoria state Court of Appeal rejected his appeal in August.

Pell is in a Melbourne prison, where the Herald Sun newspaper reported last month that he had been given a gardening job. He did not attend the High Court in Canberra to hear the decision Wednesday.

[Don’t miss the latest news from the church and the world. Sign up for our daily newsletter.]

An appeal hearing cannot happen before the judges return from their summer break in early February.

The 78-year-old was sentenced to six years in prison in March and is no longer a member of Francis’ Council of Cardinals or a Vatican official.

Pell's lawyers argued in their 12-page application for a High Court appeal that two state appeals court judges made an error in dismissing his appeal in August.

The judges made a mistake by requiring Pell to prove the abuse was impossible, rather than putting the onus of proof on prosecutors, the lawyers said.

[Want to discuss politics with other America readers? Join our Facebook discussion group, moderated by America’s writers and editors.]

They also said the two judges erred in finding the jury's guilty verdicts were reasonable. Pell's lawyers argued there was reasonable doubt about whether opportunity existed for the crimes to have occurred.

Pell's lawyers also argued that changes in the law over the years since the crimes were alleged have increased the difficulty in testing sexual assault allegations.

They say Pell should be acquitted of all charges for several reasons, including inconsistencies in the accuser's version of events.

After Pell lost his first appeal, the surviving victim said, “I just hope that it's all over now.”

Prosecutors argued there is no basis for the appeal and that the Victorian courts made no errors.

In their written submission to the High Court, prosecutors wrote that Pell's legal team was asking High Court judges to apply established principles to the facts of the case, which were already carefully and thoroughly explored by the state appeals court.

Pell was largely convicted on the testimony of one victim. The second victim died of an accidental heroin overdose in 2014 when he was 31 without complaining that he had been abused.

After Pell lost his first appeal, the surviving victim said, "I just hope that it's all over now."

Clerical sexual abuse and the Catholic Church's handling of such cases worldwide have thrown Francis' papacy into turmoil.

In a little more than a year, the pope has acknowledged he made "grave errors" in Chile's worst cover-up, Pell was convicted of abuse, a French cardinal was convicted of failing to report a pedophile, and U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was defrocked after a Vatican investigation determined he molested children and adults.

Pell must serve at least three years and eight months behind bars before he becomes eligible for parole. As a convicted pedophile, he is provided with extra protection from other inmates and spends 23 hours a day in solitary confinement.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.

We don’t have comments turned on everywhere anymore. We have recently relaunched the commenting experience at America and are aiming for a more focused commenting experience with better moderation by opening comments on a select number of articles each day.

But we still want your feedback. You can join the conversation about this article with us in social media on Twitter or Facebook, or in one of our Facebook discussion groups for various topics.

Or send us feedback on this article with one of the options below:

We welcome and read all letters to the editor but, due to the volume received, cannot guarantee a response.

In order to be considered for publication, letters should be brief (around 200 words or less) and include the author’s name and geographic location. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.

We open comments only on select articles so that we can provide a focused and well-moderated discussion on interesting topics. If you think this article provides the opportunity for such a discussion, please let us know what you'd like to talk about, or what interesting question you think readers might want to respond to.

If we decide to open comments on this article, we will email you to let you know.

If you have a message for the author, we will do our best to pass it along. Note that if the article is from a wire service such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service, or the Associated Press, we will not have direct contact information for the author. We cannot guarantee a response from any author.

We welcome any information that will help us improve the factual accuracy of this piece. Thank you.

Please consult our Contact Us page for other options to reach us.

When you click submit, this article page will reload. You should see a message at the top of the reloaded page confirming that your feedback has been received.

[Explore America’s in-depth coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.]

Advertisement

The latest from america

Join us as we offer daily scripture reflections for the entire Advent season.
Elizabeth Kirkland CahillDecember 05, 2019
Bishop Richard J. Malone of Buffalo in Rome on Nov. 12. Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Bishop Malone and named Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger of Albany, N.Y., as Buffalo's apostolic administrator. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
After the resignation of Bishop Malone, the path forward for the diocese of Buffalo looks long and arduous, writes Canisius College president John J. Hurley, but the Advent season brings hope.
John J. HurleyDecember 04, 2019
Kathryn Jean Lopez on her career, her new book and her ongoing drift from conservative politics to Catholic spirituality.
Sean Salai, S.J.December 04, 2019