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Cardinal George Pell. Cardinal George Pell.  (ANSA)

Australian court dismisses Cardinal Pell's appeal

The Supreme Court in Victoria, Australia, has dismissed Cardinal George Pell's appeal, thus upholding the conviction announced in February in the trial of first instance for historical charges of child sexual abuse. The cardinal's lawyers have 28 days to file what would be a final appeal.

The judges' decision was announced in Melbourne on Wednesday, just after 9:30 a.m. local time, following an appeal hearing held in early June. The decision comes after Pell’s initial trial for "historical crimes" of sexual abuse ended without a verdict, resulting in a new trial in which the jury unanimously approved a guilty verdict. A second charge was dismissed by the court for lack of admissible evidence.

Pre-trial Facts

Cardinal Pell became an Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1987 and was installed as its Metropolitan Archbishop in 1996. Pope Francis appointed him as a member of the Council of Cardinals in April 2013 and as Prefect for the newly created Secretariat for the Economy in February 2014.

After being under investigation for two years in Australia, Cardinal Pell was formally charged at the end of June 2017 with multiple counts of “historical sexual assault offenses” in two separate cases.

In a statement issued at the time, Cardinal Pell declared he was “innocent of these charges”, calling them “false”, adding that “the whole idea of sexual abuse is abhorrent to me”. He then announced that he would return to Australia to “clear his name”.

The Holy See issued a statement the same day announcing that Pope Francis had granted the Cardinal a “leave of absence” so he could return to Australia and “defend himself”.  According to a statement released in February 2019 by the Holy See Press Office, the local Ordinary imposed “precautionary measures” on Cardinal Pell as soon as he returned to Australia. The Holy Father confirmed those measures which included the prohibition “from exercising public ministry and from having any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors”.

Trial Facts

On 1 May 2018, he entered a “not guilty” plea in Melbourne’s Magistrates’ Court, and was ordered to stand trial. The charges brought against Cardinal Pell resulted in two trials dubbed the “cathedral trial” and “the swimmers trial”.

In the first case, Cardinal Pell was accused of indecent acts and sexual assault of two choir boys in the sacristy of Melbourne’s Cathedral after noon Mass sometime at the end of 1996 and again at the beginning of 1997.

The charges in the second case were indecent assault of two boys who accused Cardinal Pell of touching them while in a swimming pool in the late 1970s.

Deliberations by the jury regarding the “cathedral trial” which had begun in August 2018 resulted in a hung jury because jurors were unable to reach either a unanimous or a majority verdict. A retrial began in November with a new jury which came to the conclusion in December that Cardinal Pell was guilty based on evidence presented in court.

Due to a suppression order meant to protect the Cardinal’s right to a fair trial regarding the “swimmers trial”, which had not yet been tried in court, the verdict was not announced until February 2019. At the same time, it was made public that the second trial that had been set for April would not go forward due to the lack of admissible evidence.

Post-Trial Facts

In a 12 December 2018 briefing, Holy See Press Office director, Greg Burke, explained that at the end of October Pope Francis had brought closure to Cardinal Pell’s participation in the Council of Cardinals due to “advanced age”.

Subsequently, at the end of February, 2019, Holy See Press Office “ad interim” director, Alessandro Gisotti, confirmed that Cardinal Pell’s five-year appointment that had begun in February 2014 as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy had ended, thus bringing his service in the Vatican to an end.

Cardinal Pell’s sentencing took place in March 2019. Immediately after receiving a six-year prison sentence – of which he must serve at least three years and eight months – Cardinal Pell appealed the verdict. He was then taken to prison where he began to carry out the sentence. The Cardinal’s appeal took place over two days at the beginning of June.

Updated 21 August 2019, 2:09 am.

Responding to the questions received from journalists, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, Matteo Bruni, on Wednesday affirmed the following:

“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.

"As was stated by the Holy See Press Office on 26 February, the Holy Father had already confirmed the precautionary measures imposed on Cardinal Pell upon his return to Australia, that is, as is the norm, the prohibition from exercising public ministry and from any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors”.

Updated 21 August 2019, 12:10 pm.

 

20 August 2019, 11:26