Paul Smeaton reports for LifeSiteNews — Cardinal George Pell’s appeal to the Australian High Court against his conviction of historic child sex offences began early on Wednesday and will continue today, Thursday. .
Cardinal Pell has denied the allegations and last year was granted the appeal hearing in Australia’s top court.
Pell is not permitted to attend the proceedings and will remain throughout the appeal in a maximum-security prison in Victoria.
The focus of the appeal, led by Bret Walker SC, is that the original jury that convicted Pell could not have been persuaded beyond reasonable doubt of his guilt and that the Court of Appeal in Victoria, which upheld the guilty verdict, should have concluded that reasonable doubt was not excluded by the jury in their decision.
Walker is reported to have argued that the alleged crimes committed by Pell were logistically improbable, that the single witness against him presented inconsistent and unreliable evidence and that the evidence against Pell having committed the crimes all mean that the jury could not have been persuaded beyond reasonable doubt of his guilt.
In particular, Walker questioned the logistics of Pell’s alleged sexual assault on two choir boys simultaneously for five to six minutes in the cathedral sacristy while he was fully vested after Mass.
Several witnesses, including church officials, have testified that Pell, who had then been recently appointed the Archbishop of Melbourne at the time of the alleged offence, would never have been alone in the cathedral. Moreover, they say it was his invariable practise to greet churchgoers at the front doors of the building immediately after Mass ended.
“There is simply not the available time for it to occur,’’ Walker said. “We cannot eliminate the possibility the archbishop was on the steps for too long not to have offended,” which he argued meant that the jury could not have come to a conclusion of Pell’s guilt “beyond reasonable doubt.”
He added that the sacristy, where the offence is alleged to have occurred, would have been a “hive of activity” in the period immediately after Sunday Mass.
According to a report by Catholic News Agency (CNA), more than 100 Vietnamese Catholics traveled several hours by bus from Sydney to pray and sing hymns outside the High Court in Canberra in support of Cardinal Pell.
The group reportedly sees a parallel between Pell and Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận, who was imprisoned by Communist authorities in Vietnam for 13 years, nine of which were in solitary confinement. The two men were friends until Cardinal Thuận’s death in 2002, with Pell having hosted the Vietnamese cardinal in Australia during his time as archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne.
The court will hear tomorrow from Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd QC. A ruling may then be passed tomorrow, or the judges could decide to delay giving a final decision, possibly for months.
Pell was found guilty of two counts of child sex assault by a jury on December 11, 2018. Prior to his conviction, the jury had deliberated for only four days.
“A second planned trial was dropped in February 2019 due to a lack of evidence and because one of Pell’s principal accusers had died. In March 2019, Justice Peter Kidd sentenced Pell to six years in prison, with no chance of parole for three years and eight months,” LifeSiteNews reported.
After his conviction, Pell applied for a hearing with the Court of Appeal in Melbourne, which eventually took place in June 2019.
“It was reported that Pell’s defense team had made a positive impression on the three judges. However, on August 20, the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction. It was a split decision, as Justice Mark Weinberg said he could not in good conscience refrain from dissenting,” the LifeSiteNews article continued.
Weinberg explained he was “quite unconvinced” by the evidence of the only person claiming to be a victim. He argued that it was not compelling enough to put aside all other factors suggesting that the alleged victim’s account was unreliable.
According to the complainant, Pell subjected him to sexual abuse on two occasions when he was a choirboy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. At the time, in the late 1990s, the alleged victim would have been 12 and 13 years old.
Pell had first abused both him and another choirboy in the sacristy of the cathedral immediately after Sunday Mass, the alleged victim claimed. He said that on a separate occasion Pell had groped him in the midst of a crowd of choirboys.
The second choirboy died of a heroin overdose in 2014. He told his mother that he had never been abused. His father later argued that the choirboy’s addiction to heroin “was linked to post-traumatic stress disorder caused years earlier when Pell sexually abused the boy as a 13-year-old,” according to SBS News.
A report published by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation quoted Justice Weinberg as saying “the complainant ‘seemed almost to clutch at straws’ when he was questioned to minimize inconsistencies in the evidence.”
“Having had regard to the whole of the evidence led at trial, and having deliberated long and hard over this matter,” Weinberg declared, “I find myself in the position of having a genuine doubt” about Pell’s guilt.
“My doubt is a doubt which the jury ought also to have had,” he added.