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Australian High Court allows Cardinal Pell to appeal sex abuse conviction

November 13, 2019

Australia’s highest court has given Cardinal George Pell’s leave to appeal his conviction on sex-abuse charges.

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The High Court is expected to hear the cardinal’s appeal in March or April of next year, with a decision likely to come about three months after that court date.

Cardinal Pell has been in prison since February, spending 23 hours a day in solitary confinement. His appeal to the High Court is his final bid to reverse the conviction; if his appeal is denied, he will serve at least three more years before he is eligible for parole.

He was convicted last August of molesting a young man in the Melbourne cathedral. The conviction came despite the testimony of multiple witnesses who said that the alleged incident could not possibly have taken place as described by the single complainant.

The cardinal’s initial attempt to overturn that controversial verdict was rejected by an appeals court which ruled that, despite the defense testimony, the cardinal had not proven that the incident did not take place. In a dissent from the appeals court’s majority opinion, Justice Mark Weinberg wrote: “The defense had to prove nothing at all.” He observed that the prosecution was obliged to prove the cardinal’s guilt.

In their appeal to the High Court, the cardinal’s lawyers have made the same argument, saying that the appeals court “erred by finding their belief in the complainant required [Pell] to establish the offending was impossible.”

While supporters of the Australian cardinal were relieved that he would have a final day in court, the cardinal’s lawyers declined to offer a public reaction to the November 13 announcement. “This matter is now still before the court and so we are unable to comment,” they said through a spokesman.

The Vatican offered a carefully worded statement, expressing “its trust in the Australian justice system” while noting that Cardinal Pell “has always maintained his innocence.”

“This will prolong what has been a lengthy and difficult process, but we can only hope that the appeal will be heard as soon as reasonably possible and that the High Court’s judgement will bring clarity and a resolution for all,” said Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.


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