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Cardinal Pell’s Unsuccessful Appeal — and Reason for Hope

The Court of Appeal of the state of Victoria late Tuesday (Wednesday morning in Australia) dismissed Cardinal George Pell’s appeal from his sexual-abuse conviction. That conviction came at the end of a second trial on five counts of indecency with a minor, after a first jury could not agree on a verdict. (Reliable reports indicated that a majority of those jurors favored acquittal.) He was sentenced to six years, without the possibility of parole until November 2022. Cardinal Pell’s lawyers plan a further appeal to the Australian High Court. That process is likely to take up to a year. During the interim, the cardinal will remain in a Melbourne prison.

Because the trials were conducted in closed sessions and under a press “gag” order, accounts of the evidence against the cardinal have been incomplete and even sketchy. Until now. It was long widely known that the case involved allegations of assaults on two choirboys, both aged 13 when the crimes supposedly occurred in late 1996. The setting was said to be just after then-Archbishop Pell celebrated Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne.

One of the boys died accidentally a few years ago. The surviving complainant said nothing to anyone of his horrendous story until 2015. (The other boy died without ever claiming to have been abused; in fact, he expressly denied that any such thing happened to him when his mother in 2001 pointedly asked him.)

It has long been apparent, too, that the allegations against Cardinal Pell were so inherently improbable as to be, on their face, almost fantastic. Nonetheless, the prosecutors pressed on. They finally got a jury to return the verdict they wanted.

Knowing the cardinal as I do, and evaluating the evidence reported in light of my years as a Manhattan trial prosecutor, I have always confidently believed that Cardinal Pell is innocent. One small mercy of this unwelcome appellate setback is that I am now certain that Cardinal Pell is innocent. Another consolation is that the appellate decision supplies reasonable grounds to hope that the High Court will finally correct this awful miscarriage of justice.

The basis for affirming Cardinal Pell’s innocence lies in the evidence now recounted in extraordinary detail across the 325 pages of the appellate corpus. The court split 2-1. The dissenting judge — an Oxford-educated lawyer named Mark Weinberg — never quite said that he believed that Cardinal Pell was innocent. The closest Weinberg came to saying so might be this sentence: “[T]o my mind, [there is] a ‘significant possibility’ that the applicant in this case may not have committed these offenses.”

read more at National Catholic Register. 

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