Cardinal George Pell loses appeal on child sex abuse charges

George Pell was once the Vatican’s third-ranking official. (AFP pic)

MELBOURNE: Convicted paedophile cardinal George Pell had his appeal against child sex abuse charges rejected by an Australian court on Wednesday.

Once the Vatican’s third-ranking official, 78-year-old Pell was sentenced this year to six years in jail for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys at a Melbourne cathedral in the 1990s.

“He will continue to serve his sentence of six years imprisonment,” said Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, dismissing a series of appeals from Pell’s lawyers.

Pell is the most senior Catholic convicted of child sex abuse, making his case and Wednesday’s ruling a touchstone moment for believers and victims groups around the world.

A large crowd of victims, advocates, lawyers and media gathered outside the court ahead of the hotly awaited verdict, with a long queue to enter the building forming along the street.

After more than two months of deliberations, a three-judge appeals panel handed down its decision.

The clergyman’s lawyers raised 13 objections to his conviction, casting doubt on everything from the physical possibility of Pell removing his robes to the credibility of the main witness.

They argued the verdict was “unreasonable”.

The case was unusual in that it relied heavily on the closed-door testimony of the sole surviving victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons.

The verdict could have wide-ranging implications for sexual assault cases that rely on the account of a single victim.

On Monday, the father of the second victim – who died of a drug overdose in 2014 – expressed hopes that “justice would prevail” and that the ordeal would soon be over.

“He just wants closure so he can try to get on with his life and stop thinking about it every single day,” lawyer Lisa Flynn told AFP.

Another appeal possible

Two so-called “fallback” arguments for Pell related to alleged procedural errors during his trial.

His lawyers argued they should have been allowed to show an animated reconstruction of people’s movements in the cathedral on the days of the assaults.

They also took issue with the fact that Pell was not arraigned in the presence of the jury. The process was completed via video link so the large pool of potential jurors was able to watch.

Pell had already faced two juries, after his first trial in 2018 ended in a hung jury.

But Pell is still be able to challenge the decision in Australia’s High Court, the country’s final court of appeal.