By Ann Marie Foley - 22 August, 2019
Cardinal George Pell’s appeal has been dismissed by the Supreme Court in Victoria, Australia, causing dismay among his supporters and relief for victims of clerical sex abuse present at the court to hear the verdict.
In a 2-1 majority verdict the court upheld the conviction that followed the trial in February.
Back then Cardinal Pell’s first trial for “historical crimes” of sexual abuse ended without a verdict, and in the second trial the jury came to a unanimous guilty verdict.
The second charge was dismissed because of lack of admissible evidence. The appeal hearing was held two months ago (June 2019) and the verdict came yesterday (21 August 2019). The Cardinal’s legal team now has 28 days to make a final appeal.
After the verdict a Holy See Press Office statement said: “While reiterating its respect for the Australian judicial system, as stated on 26 February after the first instance verdict was announced, the Holy See acknowledges the court’s decision to dismiss Cardinal Pell’s appeal.”
The statement went on to say that: “the Holy See recalls that the Cardinal has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court.”
It concluded with support for victims of sexual abuse, stating: “Together with the Church in Australia, the Holy See confirms its closeness to the victims of sexual abuse and its commitment to pursue, through the competent ecclesiastical authorities, those members of the clergy who commit such abuse.”
Cardinal Pell’s victim, who is not named for legal reasons, said in a statement read by his lawyer that he was “grateful for a legal system that everyone can believe in”.
He stated that his journey has not been an easy one and added that it “has been all the more stressful because it involved a high-profile figure.”
Cardinal Pell’s spokesperson said that he was “obviously disappointed with the decision”. The statement continued that his legal team will examine the judgment to “determine a special-leave application to the High Court” of Australia. The statement ended by declaring once again that in spite of “the 2-1 split decision, Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence.”
The President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, stated that the Catholic Bishops of Australia believe all Australians must be equal under the law “and accept today’s judgment accordingly.” In a statement he acknowledged that the “long process of the trials and appeal of Cardinal Pell” has been difficult for those who have survived sexual abuse by the clergy, but also that the judgment “will be distressing to many people”.
Melbourne’s Archbishop Peter Comensoli said in a statement that he “respectfully” received the decision and he encouraged others to do the same. He acknowledged the “complexity of the search for the truth” in Cardinal Pell’s case and said his “thoughts and prayers are with the man who brought this matter before the courts”. However, the Archbishop stated he was ready to “offer pastoral and spiritual help” to the plaintiff “should he seek it” now and during the remainder of his sentence.
The Sydney Archbishop, Anthony Fisher, stated that the judges’ 2-1 split decision “is consistent with the differing views of the juries in the first and second trials, as well as the divided opinion amongst legal commentators and the general public”.
He then encouraged everyone “to maintain calm and civility”. He made the commitment that he and the Archdiocese of Sydney will do everything possible “to ensure that past crimes are never repeated and that Church environments are the safest possible for children and vulnerable adults.”
Cardinal Pell became an Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1987 and was installed as its Metropolitan Archbishop in 1996. Pope Francis appointed him as a member of the Council of Cardinals in April 2013 and as Prefect for the newly created Secretariat for the Economy in February 2014.
In June 2017 when charges were first laid he announced that he would leave the Vatican and return to Australia to “clear his name”.
In a December 2018 briefing, Holy See Press Office director, Greg Burke, explained that at the end of October Cardinal Pell’s participation in the Council of Cardinals was over due to “advanced age”. His position as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy subsequently ended, bringing his service in the Vatican to a close.