Pell Supporters Gather Outside Court As Disgraced Cardinal Launches Final Bid For Freedom
Cardinal George Pell’s final bid for freedom has begun as his lawyers appeal his conviction in a two-day hearing in front of all seven of Australia’s High Court Judges.
The 78-year-old is behind bars in a maximum-security prison, but his case drew a busload of supporters, who sang and prayed for the Cardinal outside the Canberra courtroom.
Emotions ran high as his 50 or so supporters clashed with a man outside the High Court who called for the Cardinal to "burn in hell".
The Cardinal’s barrister Bret Walker is an appeals expert who regularly appears before the High Court.
He wants Pell's convictions on five charges to be quashed, resulting in his immediate release from prison.
Walker told the judges belief in a victim is not enough to erase doubt raised by other witnesses about whether the opportunity to commit the offences existed.
“Belief in a complainant does not eliminate the possibility of coexistent reasonable doubt as to guilt," he argued on Wednesday.
Pell, who did not appear before the court, was convicted in 2018 for abusing two 13-year-old choir boys shortly after becoming archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.
The country's most senior Catholic was found guilty on four counts of an indecent act with a child under 16, and on one count of sexual penetration.
The court heard the first episode of offending took place over five or six minutes after two 13-year-old boys had been sneaking sacramental wine inside the priest’s sacristy when Pell caught them.
One of the victims said the then-Arch Bishop of Melbourne was still wearing his robes after presiding over solemn Sunday mass.
Pell was convicted of assaulting the first victim inside the Cathedral two months later.
His lawyer, Walker, opened the appeal by arguing the allegations were reported some 23 years after the alleged incident.
He added the crime took place not in a secluded place, as with many historical child sexual abuse cases, but in St Patrick’s Cathedral after solemn Sunday mass.
Walker argued it was a place that would have been crowded with participants in the formal liturgy, “all in a vicinity that was on the evidence, a hive of activity at critical times and places."
"At both trials … the evidence of the complainant was the only evidence to the effect that the offending had occurred," he said.
The High Court will hear from Victoria’s director of public prosecutions, Kerri Judd, tomorrow.
The High Court has not formally granted Pell's application for appeal, instead referring it "for argument".
That means after the hearing, the court can refuse the application for special leave, or approve it. It can then either allow or dismiss the appeal.