Cardinal George Pell loses appeal of sex abuse conviction

By Ed Condon and JD Flynn

Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, center, flanked by Justice Chris Maxwell (left), and Justice Mark Weinberg (right) at the appeal hearing for Cardinal George Pell. (Screenshot)

Melbourne, Australia, Aug 20, 2019 / 06:31 pm (CNA).- The conviction of Cardinal George Pell has been upheld by the Court of Appeals in Victoria. After an appellate panel announced its decision at a court proceeding Aug. 21, the cardinal was returned to prison.

“By majority (2 to 1), the Court of Appeals has dismissed Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against his conviction for the commission of sexual offences. He will continue to serve his sentence of 6 years’ imprisonment. He will remain eligible to apply for parole after he has served 3 years 8 months of his sentence,” Chief Justice Anne Ferguson said in her opening remarks in the Supreme Court of Victoria.

“The offenses in respect of which Cardinal Pell was found guilty by a County Court jury were one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16, and four charges of indecent act with a child under 16. The trial lasted for five weeks. The jury deliberated for several days. The jury’s verdict was unanimous,” Ferguson noted.

“Cardinal Pell’s conviction and this appeal have attracted widespread attention, both in Australia and beyond. He is a senior figure in the Catholic Church and is internationally well known,” Ferguson noted.

“As the trial judge, Chief Judge Kidd, commented when sentencing Cardinal Pell, there has been vigorous and sometimes emotional criticism of the cardinal and he has been publicly vilified in some sections of the community.”

“There has also been strong public support for the Cardinal by others. Indeed, it is fair to say that his case has divided the community.”

Pell’s appeal was dismissed on all three grounds the defense presented.

The cardinal, who remains an archbishop and a member of the College of Cardinals, was returned to prison immediately after court adjourned. He has been held in solitary confinement for 176 days. He may now be transferred from the intake and evaluation facility at which he is currently being held to a different prison in Victoria.

The cardinal was convicted Dec. 11, 2018, on five charges that he sexually abused two altar servers after Sunday Mass while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997. CNA reported last year that his initial trial, bound by a gag order, ended in a mistrial; this fact was confirmed by Ferguson in the Aug. 21 proceeding.

Judges were divided on Pell’s first ground of appeal, regarding the question of whether the evidence presented against Pell was unreasonable and impossible. They were unanimous in dismissing two other grounds, regarding procedural matters: one that alleged Pell’s arraignment did not follow protocol, and the other raising a complaint that an animation of the cathedral where Pell was alleged to have sexually abused to choir boys was not permitted to be shown during closing arguments.

Ferguson, Justice Chris Maxwell, and Justice Mark Weinberg, delivered their verdict in a packed Courtroom 15 at the Victoria Supreme Court.

Twenty-six accredited journalists and some 60 members of the public heard the judges’ decision announced Wednesday morning. Pell’s brother David, the cardinal’s former communications director, Katrina Lee, and the chancellor of the archdiocese of Sydney, Chris Meaney were all among the crowd.

Ferguson said the judges said that they had reached the decision after each of the three judges had watched video of the evidence given by 12 of the 24 witnesses who appeared in the trial.

“Each of the judges has read [the trial] transcript, some parts of it multiple times,” Justice Ferguson said, referring to the more than 2,000 pages of documents related to the trial.

The session opened with Justice Wienberg registering his dissent from the majority opinion, saying that while he agreed with the other judges in rejecting the second and third grounds of appeal, which were technical and procedural complaints, he did not agree that the jury’s finding of guilt could have been beyond reasonable doubt on the evidence presented.

“Where the unreasonableness ground is relied upon, the task for the appeal court is to decide whether, on the whole of the evidence, it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was guilty,” Ferguson explained.

“Having reviewed the whole of the evidence, two of the judges… decided that it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt,” Ferguson said.

“In other words, those judges decided that there was nothing about the complainant’s evidence, or about the opportunity evidence, which meant that the jury ‘must have had a doubt.’”

In his dissenting opinion, which he noted before Ferguson presented the majority decision, Ferguson said that Justice Weinberg found that the evidence of the single accuser “contained discrepancies, displayed inadequacies, and otherwise lacked probative value so as to cause him to have a doubt as to [Pell’s] guilt,” and called the accuser’s account of the second incident of abuse “entirely implausible and quite unconvincing.”

“In Justice Weinberg’s view there was a significant body of cogent and, in some cases, impressive evidence suggesting that the complainant’s account was, in a realistic sense, ‘impossible’ to accept.”

“Nevertheless,” Ferguson concluded, “the appeal on the unreasonableness ground was dismissed because the other two judges took a different view of the facts.”

Since Pell was first accused of sexually abusing minors, the cardinal has maintained his innocence.

Pell has one further avenue open in petitioning the Australian High Court in Canberra. Such an effort is expected by legal experts to offer very slim chance of success, given the appeal court result.

Pell’s lawyers have said that he will not petition for a shorter sentence. The cardinal, 78, is expected now to face a Vatican proceeding regarding the possibility that he has committed canonical crimes.

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  1. It seems that 2/3 of the Court of Appeals in Victoria wouldn’t recognize Justice if she came up and spat in their faces; as, given half a chance, I’m sure she would.

    Justice Wienberg seems to be the only one with either intellect or integrity.

  2. I am not someone who generally favors boycotts. On the other hand, I do not wish to subject myself to needless reminders of a major travesty every time I open my refrigerator.

  3. No surprise here.

    Thery were hell-bent on conviction. Looking at what evidence that is available to the public, what was denied to the defense, and the dungeon theory of hidden proceedings and no media, this is nuts.

    The state of Victoria and its vaunted reputation for corruption and dogging Pell for years in search of a charge…even the OPI knew of the relentless efforts to find someone to set up the initial charge.

    And to think Pell went there on his own with no credible threat of extradition.

    • Johann du Toit,
      Take a look through some of the chapter headings relevant to Justice for victims and also The Catholic church, then comment with some knowledge on the Australian Criminal Justice System or do you think you know all there is to know about Australia?

        • Not a single word in this report regarding acts of sexual abuse attributed to Cardinal Pell, so I fail to see it’s relevance. If you think he is guilty of covering up sexual abuse then by all means produce the evidence. But that is not what he was tried for; he was tried for acts of sexual abuse which most observers to this trial are of the opinion he could not possibly have committed.

  4. The real problem in Australia is how these cases are framed to begin with. Once you qualify the complainant as “the victim” and then assert that “the victim must always be believed,” the case is already prejudged against the defendant, who will then be found guilty even with no evidence whatsoever and solely on the basis of entirely implausible allegations. As in this case.

  5. Why are so many convinced there has been some miscarriage of justice? Surely the only action now available to Pope Francis is to remove him from the priesthood, and I say this with a heavy heart.

    • I have no doubt Francis will promptly laicize him. If you really have no idea why people believe there has been a miscarriage of justice, then I don’t think I could possibly convince you. Suffice to say that I wouldn’t want to be convicted of illegal parking on the same kind of so-called evidence used to convict Cardinal Pell–the uncorroborated testimony of one accuser against the fact that the other alleged victim was known to have denied the incident before passing away, and against the evidence of numerous witnesses as to the extreme unlikelihood of the charge being true. Obviously Australia as a whole, from the average citizen to the government, is out to destroy the Catholic Church and any Catholic who upholds its teachings, and this animus has subverted its judicial system and perverted the ends of justice. Not that I’d ever have the opportunity, but frankly I’d be afraid to go to Australia if this is the kind of kangaroo justice Catholics face there. I’m staying home, and I’d urge other Catholics to avoid “down under” also.

    • We are so convinced that there has been some miscarriage of justice because the alleged victim’s story has so many holes in it that there is a reasonable doubt, and more. Add to that the beginning of the whole incident, when the authorities decided, “Yeah, we think Cardinal Pell must have committed a crime, so if you want to accuse him, step right up… Anybody? Yoo hoo, somebody surely wants to accuse him… Come, on, somebody, come accuse him!”

    • “Why are so many convinced there has been some miscarriage of justice? ”
      I’m not convinced perhaps but I’m wondering. And to be fair, wondering from a great distance without much info. beyond what the media has provided.

      But still, I’ve had to give testimony to detectives about a serial pedophile who committed terrible abuse on very young children in our (former) parish. I have some idea about the amount & types of evidence required for a conviction in the States.

      It took a couple of decades for our pedophile’s victims to come forward one by one & he was only convicted following much testimony, photographs offered as evidence to establish his proximity to the children at the crime locations & dates claimed by the victims, & much mutual corroboration from multiple victims & the community.

      Just from what I’ve read, Cardinal Pell’s conviction appears to be lacking in much of this-especially corroboration. And the only other witness/victim involved later denied the abuse before his death.

      I wasn’t there & I’m not even in Australia. I’m not convinced one way or the other, but I am still wondering.

    • Those are convinced that this is a miscarriage of justice are those who have followed this charade for the last two years. The prosecutions accusations are plainly scurrilous and absurd. One of the two accusers actually asserted before his death that the accusations were erroneous.

      • “Those are convinced that this is a miscarriage of justice are those who have followed this charade for the last two years.”

        While I have followed related accusations involving Cardinal Pell for the last 20 years and have had first hand experience of his efforts to cover up the abuse of other priests while he has held positions of authority in the church. I have cousins living in Ballarat and was present At St Patrics when Pell had a consultation with advocates for the abused and launched his unjust and synical Melbourne Response That somehow Mr Weigel thinks was a great step forward in the Catholic Churches response the clergy abuse. I witnessed Pell’s cover up of the abuse at the Doveton Parish with Archbishop Denis Heart putting his name to it rather than Cardinal Pell. You and most others commenting are so removed from the reality of this unfolding tragedy that you may as well live on the moon.

        • None of which has anything to do with whether Cardinal Pell was guilty of the crime for which he was tried.

          If you think that he committed another crime, by all means go to the authorities and ask them to try him on it.

          But the “evidence” that he committed this crime is such that it does not, to anybody using intellect instead of “I hate him! I hate him! I want him in jail even if he didn’t do this crime!”, meet the level of “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

  6. Wow.

    Australia is actually a Kangaroo Court.

    What an outright farce.

    Proving that between McCarrick and Cardinal Pell, the “adults” of my generation have achieved a world where there is no justice.

    The career embezzlers and sex revolutionaries of the Vatican bank and real estate syndicate rejoice, and have gotten away with their criminality, by assassinating their auditor.

    Evil Incorporated…

  7. The judges were obviously scared to death; If they acquit, they will be strung up by the mob outside the court room. Better that one man perish… Practicing catholics are in very dangerous times. The secularist mob will string one up if it suits their fancy. Oh, and do not forget, that this whole scenario was initiated just after Pell was getting to the bottom of the money laundering inside the Vatican; could it be that a prelate inside the catholic church handed the Aussie mob the rope?

  8. Those guilty of abuse in that courtroom were Ferguson and Maxwell. The abuse of the justice system has no remedy in time, but it does in eternity.

    • They are either truly dishonest or else so cowardly in the face of potential backlash that either way they are, indeed, guilty of abuse.

  9. Cardinal Pell’s investigations simply got too close to the Vatican money launderers. The powers-that-be at the highest levels understood the ramifications of Pell’s thoroughness. They play for keeps. So, Pell got set up.
    As for the pope…he became a deaf mute during this charade.
    Follow the money, always follow the money.

  10. God bless Justice Weinberg and Cardinal Pell.

    Given the lack of evidence, for the Bishop of Rome to laicize Cardinal George would be a surrender of the Church to a secular state which has failed to live up to its values and has instead chosen to rule according to Jack Chick.

  11. There is no doubt that the Catholic Church (what’s new??) is being persecuted. Those in the clergy who have the courage to uphold the teachings of Christ and try to reform all the dissensions and Liturgical abuses must be silenced!

    Sean — you are so right.

  12. It seems from the comments above, that ignorance and prejudice abound amongst the readership of this internet publication. If this is a reflection of the thinking of the Catholic population in the US, it is indeed a sorry state of affairs.

    • Let me extend my personal apology for not having ascended to your “breezy” enlightenment Lord Hallam.

      In my “low estate,” though I struggle because I do not stand “atop the mast” as you surely do, I do not conclude that Cardinal Pell was actually trailblazing reformer in his “Melbourne Abuse Initiative” or whatever Mr. Wiegel calls it. I think he was simply doing financial damage control, not showing primary concern for victims and justice.

      On the other hand, I have also, despite my low estate, been aided in seeing that the standard of law in Australia is extremely crude and low, compared to the US, as attorneys are now all explaining. In the USA (unlike AUS), a man cannot present uncorroborated testimony without a judge warning the jury that this is below the standard of western civilization’s legal system, and a judge or jury cannot convict a man unless the charge is proved “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

      Hopefully, we will never have to suffer the “high standards and summits” of Australia.

      Now try tacking after that breeze…

    • The “ignorance and prejudice” is entirely on your part, sir, by issuing your sweeping and unwarranted generalizations of those who question the verdict. I don’t know Cardinal Pell. I haven’t been following his career for years or decades. I can’t vouch for his uprightness. I can’t swear that he’s innocent. I would be fully agreeable to seeing him go to prison were he proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But you and I have been over this ground before on a different thread, and you’ve consistently evaded the issue of “reasonable doubt.” The failure of the judge, jury and appeals court to see the obvious reasonable doubt in this case reveals this to in fact have been a Sondergericht tribunal. That was the name of the Nazi German “Special Court” whose job was none other than to punish whomever the political leadership wished to see punished. It was a politically-motivated court, not a legally-motivated one, nor one motivated by the search for objective truth and justice. You, sir, are obviously an ideologue who will not be reasoned with and will not allow any outcome other than that which your ideology demands, i.e. that if he’s a Catholic prelate, charged with sexual assault, he cannot be innocent. Those, however, who are not ideologues surely sense by now that Australia’s image around the world has been seriously compromised because there can hardly be any reasonable doubt now that Pell was railroaded by a Sondergericht-like proceeding.

    • Christopher Hallam ,
      Don’t you think that’s a bit unfair? If some comments don’t align with your viewpoint it doesn’t make the writer ignorant or prejudiced. If you have pertinent information to share to counter their opinions, that’s another thing.

      • mrscracker,
        quite true, if some comments don’t align with my viewpoint it doesn’t make the writer ignorant or prejudiced.
        It’s the fact that to come to a firm position while ignoring relevant information available, makes one prejudiced or their opinion based on ignorance. In the various discussions relating to Cardinal Pell i would hope that my commentary points to the pertinent information you seek regarding the motivation for my comment about prejudice and ignorance. In my view Much of Mr Weigels writing on the subject are indeed an clear and demonstrable example of false assumptions paving the way to prejudice.

  13. This is a political crucifixion of Cardinal Pell by a leftist elite with the aim of discrediting the Church. In cases of historical abuse there has to be compelling evidence sufficient to dispell even the least doubt of guilt. This is so incredibly difficult to achieve that the justice systems in most countries, until recently, placed a stutute of limitations on historical accusations of this nature. But then the leftist elite realised the potential damage they could do to the Church by eradicating the statute of limitations and offering compensation (bribery) so-called “survivors” for testimony. Now all we see all around the world, but particularly in Australia, the kangaroo court scenario. All true Christian justice has gone from the system.

  14. Unfortunately, there have been so many crimes committed inside the Church by her own priests that no one is prone to believe them anymore, even when a lack of evidence or probability is on their side. If Pell is a victim, he is one of both the Australian legal system and his own Church’s lack of zeal for its reputation. Meanwhile the leadership is more concerned about global warming, capital punishment, and the Amazon than any real internal reform forced upon it by the secular press.

    • As far as I understand it only 0.02% of clergy worldwide have been accused of such crimes, most of them decades old and all of them open to “survivor” compensation upon conviction. That hardly constitutes an epidemic in the Church, though the media is very good at making it appear that way. Never a word of praise for the 99.08% of clergy who never harm children, nor indeed for Fr. Fortunato di Noto, the Italian priest whose “METER” association has helped law enforcement in many countries to track and close down hundreds of child pornographic websites. I wouldn’t base my judgement on what the media produces!

      • 99.8 % sounds nice. But I am on the ground, and finding parish priests who speak in language other than mush… well, good for you if your experience is otherwise. Between the exception clauses, and the rhetoric of Jim Martin, and the weirdness of Jim Martin and the strange passive-aggressiveness of George Pell against the backdrop of the headlines….
        Think what you will, but from this vantage point the modern priesthood is seriously compromised. 99.8 %… Meanwhile parish participation plummets. Uf there even is such a thing anymore. Whatever. The umbrage is at this point comical.

        • We’re discussing the morality of the clergy here, not their post-Vatican II theological/liturgical Modernism, which is the cause of empty parishes. As far as clerical morality is concerned there is strong evidence to suggest that a majority of priests are perfectly safe around children and young people, this is borne out by the statistics. If you take issue with that then you have to produce sound counter evidence. It grieves me to say that your comments suggest a bitterness against the clergy for some reason other than the topic currently being debated. That’s a matter for your conscience, you shouldn’t bring your anger into the public domain. Remember the words of St. James: “The anger of man worketh not the justice of God”.

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