Cardinal Pell’s appeal wanes

George Pell

An  ageing and dishevelled Cardinal George Pell, Wednesday, returned to his cell in solitary confinement at the Melbourne Assessment Prison.

The journey follows the Court of Appeal’s split 2-1 decision handed down by Chief Justice Anne Ferguson.

Both she and Justice Chris Maxwell experienced no doubt about Pell’s guilt.

“The Chief Justice and Justice Maxwell accepted the prosecution’s submission that the complainant was a very compelling witness, was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth,” the summary said.

The dissenting judge, Justice Mark Weinberg, found discrepancies and inadequacies in the choirboy’s evidence meaning the victim’s account should have been impossible for a jury to accept.

Pell’s lawyers had put forward 13 reasons why he should have been freed.

One of these reasons was the question of whether Pell’s layers of liturgical vestments could be moved in a way the complainant said.

After inspecting similar vestments Ferguson and Maxwell concluded the jury made the correct conclusion.

The judges were however unanimous in dismissing the legal procedural arguments advanced by Pell’s defence.

In full agreement, they dismissed the grounds that Pell’s arraignment did not follow protocol and agreed with trial judge Peter Kidd that Pell’s defence should not have seen an animation of the cathedral where Pell abused the choir boys.

The judges watched more than 30 hours of video testimony and read more than 2000 pages of transcript.

They also visited St Patrick’s Cathedral and the sacristy where 23 years ago two boys were sexually assaulted by the then Archbishop of Melbourne.

Victims’ pleased

The victim of Pell’s sexual abuse, known as J, says he is relieved.

He hoped the matter ends today.

J rejects he acted for personal gain or to bring down the Catholic Church.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. I have risked my privacy, my health, my wellbeing, my family. I have not instructed any solicitor in relation to a claim for compensation. This is not about money and never has been.

“Although my faith has taken a battering, it is still a part of my life, and part of the lives of my loved ones.

“I am not an advocate. You wouldn’t know my name. I am not a champion for the cause of sexual abuse survivors, although I am glad those advocates are out there. But that is not my path”, the victim said in a statement.

“I appreciate that the criminal process has afforded Pell every opportunity to challenge the charges and every opportunity to be heard. I am glad he has had the best legal representation that money can buy. There are a lot of checks and balances in the criminal justice system and the appeals process is one of them. I just hope that it is all over now.”

Child sexual abuse advocate Chrissie Foster described the Pell appeal verdict as “an outstanding example of justice”.

“It’s a rare thing, and so many victims will be encouraged and propped up by this,” she said outside Victoria’s Supreme Court.

“It’s just astounding; we’re not used to this.”

Appeal possible

Not long after verdict’s delivery Pell’s spokesperson, Katrina Lee issued a statement expressing disappointment with the judges’ decision.

“Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision today”.

“However, his legal team will thoroughly examine the judgment in order to determine a special leave application to the High Court.

“While noting the 2-1 split decision, Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence. We thank his many supporters.”

Respect the decision

Peter Comensoli, the Catholic archbishop of Melbourne, issued a separate statement saying he respected the court’s decision and encouraged everyone to do the same.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the man who brought this matter before the courts. I humbly acknowledge it has been a challenging time for him, and I stand ready to offer pastoral care and spiritual help, should he seek it.

“In Christian charity, I will ensure that Cardinal Pell is provided pastoral and spiritual support while he serves the remainder of his sentence, according to the teaching and example of Jesus to visit those in prison.

Comensoli says he and the Archdiocese are committed to a culture that listens, that seeks to bring justice and healing, and that protects children and vulnerable people.

Honours stripped

In 2005, Pell received the Order of Australia for his service to the Catholic Church.

Following the unsuccessful appeal, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says that Pell will likely be stripped of his Australian honour.

“The courts have done their job, they’ve rendered their verdict,” he said. “That’s the system of justice in the country that must be respected.”

It is unlikely the Australian Governor-General will take any action to revoke his honour until resolution of a possible appeal to the High Court.

Pell is not allowed to celebrate Mass in prison and will be eligible to apply for parole after he has served 3 years 8 months of his sentence.


The Vatican has acknowledged the Australian judicial system.

It recalls Pell has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process, which includes his right to appeal to the High Court.

He has 28 days to file what would be a final appeal.

Pope Francis’ response

In what has been labelled a criptic comment, Pope Francis has broken his silence on Pell’s unsuccessful appeal.

“It takes more strength to repair than to build, to start anew than to begin, to be reconciled than to get along. This is the strength that God gives us,” Francis, last evening, wrote on Twitter.

On February 27, 2019, the Vatican announced the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would conduct its canonical investigation.



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