Cardinal Pell Hearing to Begin in Australia’s High Court

Cardinlal Pell's attorneys are expected to argue before the High Court that his conviction should have been overturned because it was based upon uncorroborated testimony of only one complainant.

Cardinal George Pell.
Cardinal George Pell. (photo: Edward Pentin.)

SYDNEY, Australia—   Australia’s High Court will hear on Wednesday arguments in the final appeal of Cardinal George Pell, who was convicted in 2018 on five charges of child sexual abuse.

The cardinal’s final appeal in the Australian judiciary will be heard March 11 and 12 by the High Court. Cardinal Pell lost an initial appeal in Victorian courts in August 2019.

Either a panel of 5 or 7 judges will hear Cardinal Pell’s case. The cardinal will not be in attendance.

Cardinal Pell’s attorney’s filed a 21-page briefing in anticipation of the hearing. They are expected to argue before the High Court that his conviction should have been overturned because it was based upon uncorroborated testimony of only one complainant.

That complainant said that he and another choir boy were sexually abused by Cardinal Pell after Sunday Mass while the cardinal was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.

According to the complainant, Cardinal Pell exposed himself and forced the two choir boys to commit sex acts upon him, while the cardinal was fully vested in his Sunday Mass garb, almost immediately after Mass in the priests’ sacristy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996. The complainant also said that Cardinal Pell fondled him in a corridor in 1997.

The other apparent victim died in 2014, and was unable to testify in the proceedings. In 2001 he denied to his mother that any abuse occurred while he was a member of the choir.

The cardinal was sentenced to six years in prison, of which he must serve at least three years and eight months before being eligible to apply for parole.

 Cardinal Pell, 78, has maintained his innocence, with his defense making central the argument that the alleged crimes would have been, under the circumstances, “simply impossible.”

The conviction has divided opinion in Australia and internationally. The cardinal’s defenders have contended that the sacristy abuse allegations are not possible given the high traffic after Mass and the obstructing nature of the Mass vestments.

Cardinal Pell is expected to face a canonical proceeding once a final disposition has been reached in Australia. If convicted in a canonical court of sexually abusing children, the cardinal would almost certainly be laicized.

The cardinal is incarcerated in HM Prison Barwon, a maximum-security prison southwest of Melbourne that holds some notorious crime bosses.

The Earth is Not Our Mother

“The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate.”—G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy