SYDNEY - While Cardinal George Pell of Australia is appealing his sexual abuse conviction in court, he and his supporters are making arrangements for a “safe hideaway” for the cleric, should his conviction be overturned.
According to The Australian, the risk of backlash and threats against the cardinal are so high that he is seeking a “secure compound” in which to live, should his appeal succeed in court. Some possibilities for this place would include an undisclosed location in New South Wales in southeastern Australia, or somewhere in Rome, where he previously lived and worked as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, the report noted. He would not reassume his Vatican position.
The Australian noted that one possible safe place for Pell to live, should his conviction overturn, would be a seminary in Sydney, where he stayed as he awaited trial. The difficulty with placing the high-profile cardinal in Australia is that he is easily recognized.
After having been convicted of five counts of sexual abuse of a minor in December 2018, Cardinal Pell was sentenced to serve six years in prison in March. Pell has been held in solitary confinement in the Melbourne Assessment Prison since then.
According to the Vatican, Pell has been barred from public ministry and from contact with minors during the entire legal process of the case, including the appeal.
The cardinal was convicted of having abused two choir boys immediately following a 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass in Melbourne’s cathedral. Pell, who was the Archbishop of Melbourne at the time, was accused of abusing both choir members in the same incident. One of the alleged victims was present in court to give evidence during the trial in 2017, while the other died in 2014.
The appeal was heard by a panel of three judges for the state of Victoria’s Supreme Court on June 5-6. The ruling on the appeal, or when it can be expected, is yet unknown.
During the appeal hearing, the prosecution struggled to answer questionsfrom the judges about the case, according to multiple reports. This included admitting that the alleged victim’s story regarding specific dates and times of the abuse had changed multiple times.
According to The Age, an Australian source, Pell’s lawyers are basing their appeal on what they see as multiple improbabilities or inconsistencies in the case, such as witness reports that Pell would have been greeting parishioners outside after Mass at the time of the abuse, rather in the sacristy, where the abuse is alleged to have occurred.
Furthermore, the lawyers hold that Pell was never not accompanied by another adult while at the cathedral, and it would have been impossible for someone of his size and status to disappear into the sacristy with two young boys, among other things.
The Australian added that the Supreme Court will adjourn between June 29 and July 14, meaning that the final ruling in the appeal might not be handed down until after the recess. Should Pell’s appeal fail, appealing to the Australian High Court could be the next step for his legal team.
“We’re not making any assumptions at all about whether the appeal will be successful,’’ a friend of Pell told The Australian. “It’s one day at a time.’’
The Vatican opened an internal investigation into Pell following his conviction, but they have said that Pell has the right to maintain his innocence until the “last stage of appeal.”