The Victorian Court of Appeal this morning announced their decision on the appeal of George Pell against his conviction for child sexual abuse. Pell arrived at the court from jail just before 8.30am.
The court dismissed Pell’s appeal by a majority of two to one.
“We decided that there was nothing about the complainant’s evidence or about the opportunity evidence which meant that the jury must have had a doubt about the truth of the complainant’s account,” Chief Justice Anne Ferguson said.
“In our written reasons, we have stated that it is not enough that one or more jurors might have had a doubt. Rather, the jury must have had a doubt.
“We also state that we did not experience a doubt.
“Justice Maxwell and I accepted the prosecution’s submission that the complainant was a compelling witness, was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth.”
Jusrice Ferguson said that despite Pell’s defense that his robes precluded sexual activity, the robes “were not so heavy or so immovable as .. had been suggested.
“We found that the robes were capable of being manoeuvered in a way that might be described as being pulled to one side or pulled apart.
“We note that Cardinal Pell did not have to prove anything in the trial. Rather, at all stages of trial, the burden of proof rested with the prosecution.
“It was a matter for the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that there was a realistic opportunity for the offending to take place.
“That involved showing that the offending was not impossible.”
The original George Pell trial
Pell faced court on charges of child sexual abuse in 2018.
The court then heard allegations Pell sexually assaulted two 13-year-old choir boys after mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne.
The assault occurred in the priest’s sacristy. Priests dress in their vestments in that room and prepare for a service.
Pell allegedly indecently assaulted two boys, and orally raped one of the two.
The charges alleged he offended a second time a month later.
On that occasion he allegedly grabbed a boy’s genitals in a church corridor following another mass.
Chief Judge Peter Kidd convicted Pell in December 2018 on four counts of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16 and one count of sexual penetration with a child under the age of 16.
George Pell’s surviving victim hopes it’s ‘all over now’
The surviving victim of Pell’s abuse said in a statement he was “relieved” at the outcome and hopes it is the end of the matter.
“The criminal process has been stressful. I just hope that it is all over now,” he said via his lawyer.
“The journey has taken me to places that, in my darkest moments, I feared I could not return from. The justice machine rolls on with all of its processes and punditry, almost forgetting about the people at the heart of the matter.”
He said he felt compelled to report Pell’s abuse following the death of the other choirboy in 2014.
“I gave a statement to police because I was thinking of him and his family,” he said.
“I felt I should say what I saw and what happened to me. I’d experienced something terrible as a child, something that marked my life.
“I wanted at least some good to come of it.
“I’d like to acknowledge my friend who passed away, the other choirboy, and pay my deep respect to him and to his family.
“I’d like to acknowledge the courage of those people who reported to the police. For one reason or another, your cases were not advanced. My heart goes out to all of you.”
George Pell suppression order
At the time, a suppression order blocked media reporting of the trial and even the verdict handed down in December.
Despite the suppression order, public knowledge of the verdict became widespread. Overseas media reported on the verdict. In Australia, extensive social media discussion of the verdict proved impossible to censor effectively.
The judge allowed the broadcast of Pell’s sentencing in March 2019.
He sentenced the cardinal to six year’s imprisonment with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.
In June a full bench of the Victorian supreme court heard Pell’s appeal against the conviction.
That bench included the chief justice, Anne Ferguson, the president of the court of appeal, Chris Maxwell, and Mark Weinberg
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