Australia’s High Court has set a date for 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, according to Australian media reports. Pell lost an initial appeal in Victorian courts in August 2019.
Pell’s attorney’s 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 Pell after Sunday Mass while the cardinal was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.
According to the complainant, 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 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 had 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.
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.
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.