Leading criminal barrister Robert Ritchter will no longer lead George Pell’s legal team ahead of an appeal against the cardinal’s conviction, saying he is too angry about the guilty verdict handed down by the jury.
Speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Tuesday, Richter said that he felt he did not have “sufficient objectivity at this stage” to represent Pell during his appeal against the convictions.
“I am very angry about the verdict,” he said, “because it was perverse”.
Ritchter said the cardinal, who has been found guilty of five counts of sex abuse against two teenage choirboys in the 1990s, would be “better served by someone more detached”.
“I think the man is an innocent man and he’s been convicted. It’s not a common experience,” he said.
The Fairfax publications reported that throughout the criminal proceedings observers in court noted the close bond between the pair, stating Ritchter and Pell briefly held hands after the guilty verdict was read out.
Richter came under fire in appeals court last Wednesday for claiming Pell’s case was “no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating … no aggravating circumstances”.
Following widespread backlash from sexual abuse victims and members of the general public, Richter was forced to apologise for his choice of words and released a statement last Thursday apologising for his “terrible choice of phrase”.
“I offer my sincerest apologies to all who were hurt or offended by it. No offence was intended,” he wrote in a statement shared on Twitter by ABC reporter Emma Younger.
“In seeking to mitigate sentence I used a wholly inappropriate phrase for which I apologise profusely to all who interpreted it in a way it was never intended: it was in no way meant to belittle or minimise the suffering and hurt of victims of sex abuse and in retrospect I can see why it caused great offence to many.”
Richter is one of the country’s top defence barristers.
The country was rocked last Tuesday when the news broke that Pell had been convicted of five counts of child sex abuse against two 13-year-old choirboys during his time as Archbishop of Melbourne.
Following the lifting of a gag order on Tuesday, it was revealed that the 77-year-old had been convicted of the charges on December 11, 2o18 at Melbourne’s county court, after the jury delivered a unanimous verdict. The Australian media had been unable to report on the trial until Tuesday as the judge had placed a suppression order on the case.
Pell was found guilty of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16, which his 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 Cathedral.