Cardinal George Pell has lodged a special leave application with the High Court to try to overturn his child sex abuse convictions. Pell is currently serving a maximum six-year prison sentence for the oral rape of a choirboy and the sexual assault of another. He will become eligible for parole after three years and eight months.
The 78-year-old former advisor to the Pope and his legal team had until Wednesday to file an application to the High Court. According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the matter will be considered by a panel and either dismissed, or Pell’s lawyers will be called to a brief hearing for further consideration.
If leave to appeal is granted, it is likely to be a further four to six months before his case is heard. But there is no guarantee the High Court will agree to hear the appeal. It comes after the cardinal’s first appeal against his convictions for child sexual offences was dismissed last month.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke following the outcome of the appeal, telling reporters in Canberra at the time: “My understanding is that this (appeal loss) would result in the stripping of the honours that are decided externally to the government. That is a process that is done independently, and that course will now follow.”
Morrison also urged those who are suffering any form of abuse, or reliving it due to the media attention around Pell’s case, to “reach out to those around them, to reach out to the services that are there for them”.”The courts have done their job. They’ve rendered their verdict,” he added. “That’s the system of justice in this country and that must be respected.”
Pell was convicted of five counts of child sexual abuse in December last year at Melbourne’s county court, following a unanimous verdict from the jury. The former Archbishop of Melbourne was found guilty of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16, which the victim’s lawyer reportedly likened to “oral rape”, and four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16.
Pell’s victims were two 13-year-old choirboys, who were abused by the then Archbishop of Melbourne in December 1996 and February 1997 in the city’s St Patrick’s Cathedral. According to multiple reports Pell’s legal team argued an appeal claiming the verdicts were unreasonable and that insufficient evidence was provided in relation to the crimes in the late 1990s. They produced a list of 13 reasons why Pell could not have carried out the abuse such as his supposed location in the cathedral at the time of the incidents.
Pell’s lawyers also claimed he should have been able to plead not-guilty in person before the jury instead of via video link. On top of this they said, according to multiple reports, that the judge should have allowed a video animation of where the abuse occurred to be played showing where the witnesses allegedly were following the mass when the crime took place.
This was despite the graphic details of the assaults that were heard in court. In the first instance, Pell reportedly confronted the two boys in the priests’ sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral, undoing his pants and forcing the head of one of the boys close to his genitals. He then moved to the second boy and put his penis in the boy’s mouth.
He was also found guilty of forcing the second boy to lower his pants and sexually assaulting him, and of later masturbating while assaulting the second boy. The allegations from the second boy, who is now in his 30s, were only reported in 2015 as he was “in shock” following the abuse and feared no one would believe him. Speaking in court previously, the man claimed he was also scared his school scholarship would be taken away should he speak up about the abuse.