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‘The verdicts are unreasonable and cannot be supported,’ the appeal application says
An Australian court announced on Wednesday that Cardinal George Pell’s application for leave to appeal his conviction of sexual abuse will be heard on June 5-6.
Pell, 77, was convicted in December on five counts of sexual abuse stemming from charges that he sexually assaulted two choirboys while serving as Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996. He has maintained his innocence.
It was the cardinal’s second trial, as a jury in an earlier trial had failed to reach a unanimous verdict. The first jury were deadlocked 10-2 in Pell’s favor.
Pell’s appeal will by led by barrister Bret Walker, SC, who will be assisted by Robert Richter, QC, the cardinal’s defense lawyer; Paul Galbally, his solicitor; and Ruth Shann, Richter’s junior barrister.
The cardinal’s appeal will be made on three points: the jury’s reliance on the evidence of a single victim, an irregularity that kept Pell from entering his not guilty plea in front of the jury, and the defense not being allowed to show a visual representation supporting his claim of innocence.
The appeal document, The Age reported, says that “the verdicts are unreasonable and cannot be supported, having regard to the evidence, because on the whole of the evidence, including unchallenged exculpatory evidence from more than 20 Crown witnesses, it was not open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the word of the complainant alone.”
Pell is incarcerated at the Melbourne Assessment Prison while he awaits the results of a sentencing hearing, which will be announced March 13.
In December, a district judge overturned the May 22 conviction of Archbishop Philip Wilson for failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse disclosed to him in the 1970s, saying there was reasonable doubt a crime had been committed.
The judge, Roy Ellis, said acceptance of the accuser “as an honest witness does not automatically mean I would be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that he complained to Philip Wilson in 1976 that James Fletcher had indecently assaulted him.”
The news of Pell’s conviction has met with varied reactions. While many figures in Australian media have applauded Pell’s conviction, some Australians have called it into question, prompting considerable debate across the country.
Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, suggested that the justice process was tainted by media and police forces that had worked “to blacken the name” of Pell “before he went to trial.”
“This is not a story about whether a jury got it right or wrong, or about whether justice is seen to prevail,” Craven said in a Feb. 27 opinion piece in The Australian. “It’s a story about whether a jury was ever given a fair chance to make a decision, and whether our justice system can be heard above a media mob.”
Pell was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Ballarat in 1966. He was consecrated a bishop in 1987, and appointed auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, becoming ordinary of the see in 1996. Pell was then Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 to 2014, when he was made prefect of the newly-created Secretariat for the Economy. He served on Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals from 2013 to 2018. Pell ceased to be prefect of the economy secretariat Feb. 24.