Pell to stay in jail as appeal fails

A court sketch of Cardinal George Pell at his appeal hearing in June. Photo: AAP
A court sketch of Cardinal George Pell at his appeal hearing in June. Photo: AAP

CATHOLIC Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against his child sexual abuse conviction has been dismissed and he will remain in prison.

Pell was convicted in December of five charges over the rape of one 13-year-old choirboy and sexual assault of another at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996.

He sat emotionless in the dock when the decision was announced, and looked down as the reasons were read.

The Court of Appeal sitting in Victoria rejected the centrepiece of Pell’s appeal in a 2-1 decision in Melbourne on Wednesday.

Chief Justice Ann Ferguson and President Chris Maxwell were agreed in their decision, while Justice Mark Weinberg said he would have ordered Pell be acquitted.

Pell was sentenced to six years in prison, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.

Justice Ferguson said she and Justice Maxwell believed the complainant was a compelling witness, not a fantasist.

“Throughout his evidence the complainant came across as someone who was telling the truth,” she said.

“He did not seek to embellish his evidence or tailor it in a manner favourable to the prosecution.”

She said the judges had watched the evidence, including some parts a number of times.

They also visited the cathedral and examined the robes, which Pell’s defence team had argued were too heavy to be pulled aside so he could expose his penis, as had been alleged.

“We found the robes were capable of being manoeuvred in a way that could be described as moved or pulled aside,” she said.

Justice Weinberg, however, said there was cogent and in some cases “impressive” evidence that the complainant’s evidence could not be acceptable.

He found that the complainant’s evidence contained “discrepancies” and “inadequacies”.

“It caused him to have a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt,” Justice Ferguson said.

“In his view the convictions could not stand.”

However, his decision was overruled by the majority.

Pell applied for leave to appeal on grounds that County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd had made two errors, including not allowing an animation of what the defence said occurred in the cathedral that day.

There was no evidence of any kind that this particular scenario presented in the animation had occurred, Justice Ferguson said.

“It was plainly intended to plant into the minds of the jury that the complainant’s account was impossible,” she said.

They also ruled that Pell was not required to be physically present when he was arraigned – officially asked how he pleaded – in front of the jury pool. Presence via videolink, as occurred, was sufficient.

The Press Office of the Holy See has released a statement acknowledging the court’s decision this afternoon.

“While reiterating its respect for the Australian judicial system, as stated on 26 February after the first instance verdict was announced, the Holy See acknowledges the court’s decision to dismiss Cardinal Pell’s appeal,” the statement reads.

“As the proceedings continue to develop, the Holy See recalls that the Cardinal has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court.

“At this time, together with the Church in Australia, the Holy See confirms its closeness to the victims of sexual abuse and its commitment to pursue, through the competent ecclesiastical authorities, those members of the clergy who commit such abuse.”

– AAP