Cardinal George Pell has failed to have his conviction for child sex abuse overturned.
The appeal was rejected by the Melbourne Court Of Appeal this morning. Pell is currently serving a prison sentence for the abuse of two choir boys at St Patrick’s Cathedral between 1996-97 – specifically, one charge of penetration of a minor and four charges of committing an indecent act with a child.
He and his supporters were in court to hear the judgement.
Pell’s lawyers appealed the decision on three grounds. The first was that the victim’s evidence was insufficient to convict the Cardinal without reasonable doubt. The second and third appeal grounds related to court procedures.
The appeal was heard by three Chief Justices, Anne Ferguson, Chris Maxwell and Mark Weinberg.
Ferguson and Maxwell rejected the first grounds of appeal, saying they reviewed all the evidence and found the key witness to be credible and reliable and dismissed Pell’s team’s claim that he was a “fantasist”.
“He did not seek to embellish his evidence,” said Chief Justice Anne Ferguson in her summing up of the appeal’s failure.
The three justices also reviewed the testimony of 26 supporting witnesses, referred to as “opportunity witnesses”. Ferguson and Maxwell found they supported the victim’s claim. Weinberg did not.
The review judges also viewed video of George Pell’s interview with police, evidence which was also presented to the trial jury.
Part of the appeal was that of the “physical impossibility” of the crime, however, the review panel rejected this claim.
The three Chief Justices rejected the two procedural claims unanimously. These related to the presence of the jury via video link rather than in person during the arraignment, and the last-minute presentation of an animated video in the prosecution’s final presentation. The video was disallowed.
Pell will serve a minimum of 3 years and 8 months before he is eligible for parole at age 81. However, he may yet make a final appeal to the High Court.
Outside the court, abuse survivors and their supporters hailed the decision saying that it sends a strong message that victim’s testimonies will be believed.
Pell is the highest ranking Catholic to be convicted of child sexual abuse worldwide and the case has attracted global attention.