AUSTRALIA: A senior Australian Archbishop said Thursday he still believed disgraced Cardinal George Pell was innocent despite a court rejecting his appeal against child sex abuse convictions.
Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli said while he accepted the testimony of the victim that convicted Pell, he believed his colleague was the victim of mistaken identity.
“I believe in what he said to me on many occasions, that he’s innocent,” Comensoli told 3AW radio, stressing that he accepted the witness was indeed abused but by someone else.
He did not offer any evidence to support the claim.
Pell and his supporters look set to fight on after the former Vatican treasurer on Wednesday lost his appeal against five convictions for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys at a Melbourne cathedral in the 1990s.
University of Melbourne law professor Jeremy Gans said it was highly likely that Pell would now take his case to the country’s final court of appeal.
“He’s got absolutely nothing to lose, and his odds are long. But if he wins, it’s big for him, so why on earth wouldn’t he do it?” Gans told AFP.
Pell, 78, who once helped elect Popes, is serving a six-year sentence for the offences, which came to light after one of the victims went to police when the other died of a drug overdose in 2014.
Wednesday’s landmark decision at the Court of Appeal was a 2-1 verdict.
Two judges said they believed Pell’s surviving victim, while the dissenting judge said he found the victim’s account “contained discrepancies”.
Gans said the High Court would likely be more open to taking on the case because of the split decision, but it wasn’t guaranteed.
Stuart Webb, president of the Law Institute of Victoria, described the outcome of the appeal as “fascinating and unusual”, saying Pell’s lawyers would now be scrutinising the 300-page judgement to see whether they could take further legal steps.
Under the relevant legislation, the High Court can consider an appeal if it is of public importance, is required to resolve differences of opinion on the state of the law or is in the interests of the administration of justice.
“And that will be questionable in the circumstances because the High Court is unlikely to be willing to enter into a discussion about factual situations,” Webb said.
The Vatican has said it will not launch an investigation into its most senior convicted child molester until after the case is finalised, despite announcing a probe back in February.
“As in other cases, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is awaiting the outcome of the ongoing proceedings and the conclusion of the appellate process prior to taking up the case,” spokesman Matteo Bruni said.
During Pell’s trial under a court-ordered veil of secrecy, the Vatican gradually removed him from top Church bodies with little explanation.
Pell is also facing multiple civil compensation suits, including from the father of the deceased choirboy.