SYDNEY / ROME - Australia’s Cardinal George Pell, a former adviser to Pope Francis, has lost his appeal against his convictions for sexually abusing two choirboys in the late 1990s when he was Archbishop of Melbourne. His appeal was rejected by judges at the Victorian Court of Appeal in a 2-1 majority decision.
Once part of the Pope’s inner circle, George Pell had arrived to hear his fate Wednesday in the back of a prison van and wearing a clerical collar.
He was found guilty last December of "a brazen and forcible sexual attack” on two choirboys in Melbourne in the late 1990s. In March, he was jailed for six years.
His lawyers said the case against him was flawed because the jury relied on the “uncorroborated evidence” of the surviving boy. But the Victorian Court of Appeal disagreed.
Chief justice Anne Ferguson said the victim was reliable.
“Justice Maxwell and I accepted the prosecution’s submission that the complainant was a very compelling witness, was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth,” she said.
Outside the court, Chrissie Foster, who campaigns for victims of clerical abuse, said she welcomed the ruling.
“It’s just a wonderful day for survivors for victims. I think it sends a message that justice will be served no matter how high you are, how old you are or what your job is. This is a crime that’s against children, that innocence just taken and destroyed,” she said.
Who is Pell?
George Pell is the most senior Catholic figure worldwide to be guilty of child sexual abuse. But this case might not be over. His legal team is considering challenging his convictions in Australia’s High Court.
The 78-year old Pell is now back in prison in disgrace for crimes he committed more than 20 years ago when he was Archbishop of Melbourne. He will have to serve more than three years behind bars before he is eligible for parole.
At the Vatican, a statement read out by papal spokesman Matteo Bruni said the Holy See acknowledged and respected the decision taken by the Australian court. He added that Pell has the right to a further appeal.
“As the proceedings continue to develop, 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," he said.
Justice for sex abuse victims
The Vatican spokesman also said that the Catholic Church will continue to seek justice for the victims of clerical sexual abuse.
“At this time, 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," he said.
For the time being, Pell remains a cardinal of the Catholic Church while behind bars.
This story was updated on August 21 at 7:52 am