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Cardinal George Pell to appeal against his convictions for sex attacks on two choirboys

The most senior figure in the Catholic church to be convicted of historical child sexual offences, Pell was sentenced in March to six years in prison.

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

THE VATICAN’S FORMER number-three, Cardinal George Pell, will begin his appeal this coming Wednesday against convictions for sex attacks on two choirboys in the 1990s.

Pell, who managed church finances and helped elect two popes, argues the verdict was “unreasonable”, that jurors were not shown vital evidence, and that he was not asked to enter a plea in front of the panel.

The most senior figure in the Catholic church to be convicted of historical child sexual offences, Pell was sentenced in March to six years in prison.

He was found guilty on five counts, including oral rape and molesting the two 13-year-olds in the sacristy of St Paul’s Cathedral when he was the Archbishop of Melbourne.

One of his victims died of a drug overdose in 2014 and never disclosed the abuse.

Trial Judge Peter Kidd described Pell’s crimes as “brazen”, “nasty” and a “breathtakingly arrogant” abuse of power.

A second set of charges against the 77-year-old — stemming from alleged abuse in a swimming pool in Ballarat, Victoria, in the 1970s — was dropped earlier this year.

Pell’s appeal at Melbourne’s Supreme Court — which will be live streamed to the public — has been greatly anticipated by his supporters and high-profile commentators who say he was made a scapegoat for the broader sins of the Catholic church and did not receive a fair trial.

The case will be presided over by three judges — Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria Justice Anne Ferguson, President of the Court of Appeal Justice Chris Maxwell and Justice Mark Weinberg.

The judges could determine Pell’s fate this week or could defer their decision until a later date. The verdict does not have to be unanimous but must have the support of two of the justices.

Three grounds

Pell is not required to appear at the appeal hearings on June 5 and 6, and it is unclear if he will show up or possibly appear via video link from jail.

His legal team for the appeal, headed by Bret Walker, will argue his case on three grounds.

The first and most significant is that the jury’s verdict was “unreasonable and cannot be supported having regard to the evidence”.

Pell’s team argues the jury could not be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt on the word of a single complainant and that there was “unchallenged exculpatory evidence from more than 20 Crown witnesses”.

The second ground is that Kidd erred in not allowing defence lawyer Robert Richter to show the jury a video that purportedly shows Pell’s attack would have been impossible based on the movement of people in the church.

The third ground is that there was “a fundamental irregularity in the trial process” because Pell was not asked if he pleaded guilty or not guilty in front of the jury.

- © AFP, 2019

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