SYDNEY — A source close to Cardinal George Pell and his legal team said the cardinal has denied not requesting a reduced sentence if his appeal trial fails to overturn his conviction next week.

“Neither the cardinal nor his legal team have made any comment about his sentence or appealing the sentence,” a source close to the cardinal told the Register May 30. “The main and only focus at this time is the appeal next Tuesday and Wednesday against his conviction.”

The source added: “I am sure it is not by chance recent stories have been framed in such a way to cast doubt on the cardinal’s view of the trial decision, but there is no basis for it.”

Earlier this week, Australian Associated Press reported that Cardinal Pell, currently serving a six-year sentence for sexual abuse of minors, would not ask for a shorter sentence if his conviction was not overturned on appeal.

AAP said it “understands Pell’s lawyers won’t add an appeal against sentence to their conviction appeal, which has already been lodged,” adding that an appeal against the sentence “would likely have to argue the sentence was ‘manifestly excessive.’”

But the source close to the cardinal said “there has been, again, much conjecture prior to the appeal hearing next week.” The source also “expected more stories and commentary also between now and then by media to ‘keep the story live.’”

Asked why the cardinal’s team did not correct the false report earlier when it appeared, the source said the “last thing needed was to give more oxygen to the claim.”

Earlier Thursday, the court confirmed in a statement that Cardinal Pell’s appeal will be broadcast live from the Victorian Supreme Court Wednesday.

Pell and his lawyers are expecting a decision from the three appellate judges in around four to six weeks.

 

The Cardinal Pell Case

In March, County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd sentenced the former prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy to six years in prison.

The cardinal, who will turn 78 June 8, was ordered to serve at least three years and eight months of that sentence after being convicted by a jury in December of one charge of rape of a child and four charges of committing an indecent act with or in the presence of a child.

The abuse is alleged to have taken place in the sacristy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996 when Pell was newly-installed as archbishop. The cardinal has always vigorously denied the charges.

His lawyers argue that the jury could not have been convinced beyond reasonable doubt of Cardinal Pell’s guilt due to the presence of “unchallenged exculpatory evidence” from 20 witnesses.

A further challenge to the verdict is that only one of the victims is still alive, and the other, deceased, victim repeatedly denied prior to his death that he had ever been abused.

The cardinal’s lawyers have also said that a video, purportedly showing it was impossible for the abuse to have occurred as described, should have been allowed to be shown during closing arguments of the trial last year.

Lastly, Cardinal Pell’s lawyers have alluded to the “fundamental irregularity” of the cardinal not being properly arraigned in front of a jury.

The cardinal will win his appeal if the three appellate judges rule his guilt was not established beyond reasonable doubt, but if they only accept the second or third reasons for the appeal, he may have to face a new trial.

The cardinal’s attorneys have told Australian media he will not contest his sentence again if the appeal fails.

 

Persecution Not Prosecution?

Commentators and supporters have strongly defended Cardinal Pell, saying he is a victim of a gross miscarriage of justice and bearing the brunt of entrenched anti-Catholic prejudice in the country.

They point to lack of evidence for the conviction, contrary evidence from the witnesses brought by the prosecution, and a public trial by the media before charges were laid.

The National Civic Council, an Australian non-profit organization defending human dignity and religious freedom, said this made the process “a persecution not a prosecution.”  

The source close to the cardinal said Cardinal Pell “has received an enormous amount of letters and cards of support and he is looking forward to attending the appeal next week.”