Cardinal Pell launches appeal against child sex conviction

Cardinal George Pell is seen at County Court in Melbourne, Australia February 26, 2019. — AAP Image/Erik Anderson via Reuters
Cardinal George Pell is seen at County Court in Melbourne, Australia February 26, 2019. — AAP Image/Erik Anderson via Reuters

MELBOURNE, June 5 — Australian Cardinal George Pell left his prison cell to attend the opening hearing today in his appeal against conviction for child sexual abuse.

Pell, 77, was convicted in December on five counts of assaulting two choirboys in Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral in 1996 and 1997.

The Vatican's former number three, who managed church finances and helped elect two popes, was sentenced in March to six years in prison.

His lawyers say that conviction was unreasonably based on the testimony of a single surviving victim and that the judge unfairly disallowed defence evidence.

Pell's second victim died of a drug overdose in 2014 and never disclosed the abuse.

Pell wore his clerical collar and a black coat for the appeal, which is being heard by three judges of Victoria State's Supreme Court: Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, President of the Court of Appeal Chris Maxwell and Justice Mark Weinberg.

Pell has always maintained his innocence and supporters have claimed the cleric was being punished unfairly for the Catholic church's cover-ups of paedophile priests.

The hearing is scheduled for today and tomorrow before the three judges make a decision on his case, a process that could take several weeks.

They could reject the appeal, order a retrial or acquit Pell. Any ruling could be appealed further to Australia's High Court.

Prior to today's hearing, the three judges visited Saint Patrick's cathedral to understand the evidence that was considered by the jury, a court spokesman said.

The defence argues that the timing of the assaults were “impossible” given the dates and his publicly verified movements within the cathedral.

The appeal also says it was not possible for the two choirboys to have left their group unnoticed or for the sexual assault in the sacristy to have gone undetected when the cathedral was busy following mass.

The victim's testimony and cross-examination were given to the jurors and judge alone. A video of that cross-examination is expected to be reviewed by the appeal judges. — AFP

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