Cardinal George Pell ‘maintains his innocence’, will take appeal to High Court

Cardinal George Pell was pictured outside court today. Source: Getty.

Just hours after the Supreme Court of Victoria handed down its decision to dismiss Cardinal George Pell’s appeal over his conviction for child sexual offences, the senior Catholic’s legal team have confirmed they are not giving up. A statement has been released by Pell’s representatives which states the case will be taken to the High Court.

“Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision today,” the statement, which has been shared widely online, read. “However his legal team will thoroughly examine the judgement in order to determine a special leave application to the High Court. While noting the split 2-1 decision, Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence. We thank his many supporters.”

The statement comes on the same day that 78-year-old Pell lost his appeal, meaning he will continue to serve his sentence of six years imprisonment. It was also confirmed that he will become eligible for parole after three years and eight months.

During the hearing on Wednesday Chief Justice Anne Ferguson explained their reasoning behind dismissing the appeal. She told the court after examining the evidence presented throughout the trial that it was open to the jury to be satisfied by reasonable doubt that cardinal pell was guilty.

Further to this they rejected all 13 of the reasons Pell’s lawyers said the cardinal could not have carried out the abuse of the choir boys. This included that the robes Pell was wearing at the time of the crime were capable of being manoeuvred in a way that they could be pushed to the side to commit the abuse.

The judges also found the complainant’s evidence to be true, with Ferguson explaining they were “clearly not a liar”. “It is not enough that the jury might have had a doubt, but they must have had a doubt,” she said in court. “This was a compelling witness, clearly not a liar, not a fantasist and was a witness of truth.”

According to the Catholic News Agency Pell was joined at the court hearing by his brother David and friend and former Sydney Comms Manager Katrina Lee and chancellor of the Sydney archdiocese Chris Meany.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also spoke following the outcome of the appeal, telling reporters in Canberra: “My understanding is that this (appeal loss) would result in the stripping of the honours that are decided externally to the government,” Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra following the appeal loss.”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.

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