Health & Spirit

Jailed Australian Cardinal Pell appeals child sex abuse convictions

Subel Bhandari, DPA on

Published in Religious News

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Australian Cardinal George Pell, who is serving a six-year sentence for sexually abusing two choirboys in a Melbourne cathedral in the mid-1990s, appeared in court Wednesday to appeal his convictions.

The former Vatican treasurer and onetime close adviser to Pope Francis appeared in the Victoria Supreme Court flanked by security.

He wore a clerical collar and had a yellow notepad and pen in front of him, on which he took notes.

Pell, 77, who is the highest-ranking Catholic figure to be convicted of child sex abuse, was found guilty by a jury in December and sentenced in March. He maintains his innocence.

His lawyer, Bret Walker, began his arguments by saying the verdict was "unsafe and unsatisfactory" and that it was "not possible" for Pell to have sexually assaulted the two boys in the cathedral without being detected.

"Where people were at critical periods of time, few minutes after the Mass is important," Walker said. He also argued that Pell's clerical robes made the abuse "physically impossible."

Pell's application for leave to appeal, and the appeal itself, will be argued at the same time in front of three judges. The hearing will last two days.

His lawyers are expected to argue that the convictions should either be overturned or the case retried on three main grounds, including that the verdicts were unreasonable.

The verdict, majority or unanimous, could come as early as Thursday or take several weeks or even months. If the court agrees with Pell's lawyer, he will likely be released from prison immediately.

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Pell had just become archbishop of Melbourne when the sexual assaults took place in St Patrick's Cathedral.

His victims were two 13-year-old boys on scholarships at the city's prestigious St Kevin's College. The pair had left the choir group after a Sunday Mass in late 1996 and were caught drinking sacramental wine in the priest's sacristy.

In December, Pell was unanimously convicted by a jury on five charges -- one count of sexual penetration of a child under 16, and four counts of committing an indecent act with or in presence of a child under 16.

An earlier jury had been discharged in September after it could not reach a verdict.

The Vatican has banned Pell from public ministry or having contact with children, and has launched its own investigation into his convictions.

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