Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against a conviction for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choir boys was rejected by the Supreme Court this morning, meaning his jail term of six years—with a non-parole period of three years and eight months—still stands. Pell, who was sentenced back in March and has already served more than 170 days behind bars, could have walked free today if just two of the judges agreed that the conviction should be overturned, The Guardian reports.
As it happened, his appeal was dismissed by a margin of two to one.
“Having reviewed the whole of the evidence two of the judges of the court of appeal… have decided it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Cardinal Pell was guilty of the offences charged,” said Chief Justice Anne Ferguson. “We decided there was nothing about the complainant’s evidence that meant the jury must have had a doubt about the complainant’s account. It is not enough that the jury might have had a doubt, but they must have had a doubt."
“This was a compelling witness, clearly not a liar, not a fantasist, and was a witness of truth.”
Pell’s barrister, Bret Walker, had argued his appeal on three grounds: first, that the jury was unreasonable in reaching its verdict; that Pell did not have his criminal charges formally read out to him in the presence of the jury panel; and that Pell’s defence team should have been allowed to show a video animation of its argument during the closing address, which it was not.
The second and third grounds were dismissed unanimously, while the first—which was the most likely to succeed—was dismissed two to one.
Cardinal Pell has consistently pleaded not guilty to the allegations, which he previously described as “a load of garbage and falsehood.” When asked in March whether the former archbishop would appeal the ruling, Pell’s defence barrister Robert Richter QC said: “Absolutely.”
Pell, the former archbishop of Melbourne and the most senior Catholic to ever be convicted of sexually abusing children, was convicted over offences committed against two choirboys during his time at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996: including one charge of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16, and four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16.
Today’s decision means Pell will remain in prison until October 2022, and will be 81 years old when he is released.
Children or young people can also contact the Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or kidshelpline.com.au