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Cardinal George Pell loses appeal against convictions for child sex abuse

He was once the Vatican’s third highest-ranking official.

Cardinal George Pell arrives in court in February
Cardinal George Pell arrives in court in February
Image: AAP/PA Images

CARDINAL GEORGE PELL has lost an appeal against child sex abuse convictions in Australia.

Pell, who was once the Vatican’s third highest-ranking official, attempted to overturn the verdicts and a six-year sentence for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys at a Melbourne cathedral in the 1990s.

The high-profile case pitted the 78-year-old – who previously ran the Vatican’s finances and was involved in the church’s response to child sex abuse claims – against one surviving former choirboy.

However, Chief Justice Anne Ferguson dismissed his arguments and described his victim as “very compelling” and someone who “was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth”.

The now-adult victim – who cannot be named for legal reasons – said the “stressful” four-year legal fight had taken him “to places that, in my darkest moments, I feared I could not return from”.

Dismissing media critics, the man said the death of his friend, the second choirboy involved in the case, had prompted him to break his silence.

“After attending the funeral of my childhood friend… I felt a responsibility to come forward,” he said in a statement read by his lawyer.

“I am not an advocate. You wouldn’t know my name. I am not a champion for the cause of sexual abuse survivors.”

A lawyer for the father of the second victim said he felt as if “a weight had been lifted”.

“He feels that justice has been delivered today. He has a real sense of relief that George Pell is behind bars tonight,” Lisa Flynn told AFP.

Second appeal possible

Following the ruling, Pell – who will be eligible for parole in three years and eight months – maintained his innocence and said he was now considering a second and final appeal.

“Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision today,” said a statement issued through the church.

“His legal team will thoroughly examine the judgement in order to determine a special leave application to the High Court.”

The case was unusual in that it relied heavily on the closed-door testimony of the sole surviving victim.

The three judges unanimously dismissed two so-called “fallback” arguments for Pell related to alleged procedural errors during his trial.

His lawyers argued that they should have been allowed to show an animated reconstruction of peoples’ movements in the cathedral on the days of the assaults.

They also took issue with the fact that Pell was not arraigned in the presence of the jury.

Following Wednesday’s ruling Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed sympathy for the victims.

He said the “courts had done their job” and indicated Pell would be stripped of his Order of Australia honour.

Shortly after his conviction earlier this year, Pell was removed from the so-called C9 Council of Cardinals that are effectively the Pope’s cabinet and inner circle of advisers.

The Vatican dropped him as the Church’s finance chief and opened its own probe into his actions after his conviction was made public in February.

- © AFP 2019

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