MELBOURNE, Victoria, Australia (ChurchMilitant.com) - A panel of three judges in Austalia has denied the appeal of a top Australian cardinal.
At a hearing on Wednesday, a panel of three judges rejected the appeal of Cdl. George Pell, convicted of five counts of child sexual abuse.
Chief Justice Anne Ferguson announced the 2–1 decision and noted that Cdl. Pell will be "eligible for parole after he has served three years and eight months."
Justices Ferguson and Chris Maxwell agreed that the complainant was a "compelling witness" and did not find him to be a "liar or a fantasist." They believed he "did not seek to embellish his testimony or tailor his answers and found his explanations of what he could remember and what he couldn't "had the ring of truth."
They both said the jury could be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Cdl. Pell was guilty.
Justice Mark Weinberg, however, noted the complainant's testimony was occasionally embellished and inconsistent, which caused him to have reasonable doubt. He also thought the second charge was implausable and "the conviction was unreasonable."
Cardinal Pell was found guilty of five counts of child sex abuse in December stemming from allegations that he molested two 13-year-old choirboys at St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1996 and 1997 while archbishop of Melbourne.
The first trial over these charges resulted in a hung jury.
In June, Justices Ferguson, Maxwell and Weinberg heard oral arguments for two days from Cdl. Pell's legal team, who claimed the conviction should be overturned owing to 13 obstacles.
Reports note that the prosecutor, Christopher Boyce, "bumbled and stumbled" through his presentation and was unable to answer Weinberg's question as to how Cdl. Pell could remove his vestments while using both hands to hold the alleged victim's head.
Before the hearing, the judges pored over documents and visited the cathedral. They noted several contradictions in Boyce's presentation and a misstep by Cdl. Pell's defense team.
Boyce even argued that the accuser's evidence was "compelling" because of his willingness to "concede" that there were "things he got wrong." He went on to ask that if the accusation were so improbable, why would the accuser have made it up, to which Justice Maxwell responded, "You answer your own question."
Weinberg also said the jury may have been misled to find Cdl. Pell guilty based on whether the abuse was "possible" as opposed to its happening "beyond a reasonable doubt."
More than 24,000 people signed a petition supporting Cdl. Pell's right to appeal. They "believe the evidence of the complainant does not add up, and is not beyond a reasonable doubt."
Others have speculated that these accusations were an attempt to stop Cdl. Pell's work to reform Vatican finances, as he was in the process of exposing corruption.
Cardinal Pell had been prefect for the Secretariat for the Economy, with control over Vatican finances since 2014. By December, his team reported hundreds of millions of euros "tucked away" and off the books.
He detailed the reforms and initial findings in 2014, noting, "It is important to point out that the Vatican is not broke."
"In fact, we have discovered that the situation is much healthier than it seemed, because some hundreds of millions of euros were tucked away in particular sectional accounts and did not appear on the balance sheet," he continued.
What Cdl. Pell uncovered was that various dicasteries, congregations and councils maintained independent finances with little to no oversight. Later, the team revised that amount to nearly 1 billion euros that weren't included in the balance sheets.
By 2016, Vatican Secretary of State Cdl. Pietro Parolin, without consulting Cdl. Pell, announced they were suspending the external audit of Vatican finances. Later in the year, Pope Francis issued a motu proprio that stripped the Secretariat for the Economy of control and handed it to the Administration of the Patrimony of the Holy See (APSA).
That same month, Australian police announced an allegation that Cdl. Pell exposed himself to a group of young boys in the 1980s. In October, police interviewed the prelate in Rome about the allegations from two choir boys.
In 2017, Cdl. Pell sent a letter to the pope saying he believed there are "serious irregularities" at APSA. A month later, the Vatican auditor general, Libero Milone, resigned amid allegations of misconduct — a charge from which he was eventually exonerated. Milone claimed he was threatened and intimidated by the head of the Vatican police because of his work uncovering corruption.
A little more than a week after Milone's resignation, Australian police charged Cdl. Pell with multiple sexual offenses. He vigorously maintained his innocence, and instead of invoking diplomatic immunity, Cdl. Pell voluntarily traveled back to Australia to clear his name.
The trial relating to other allegations that Cdl. Pell molested boys in a swimming pool in the 1970s was thrown out owing to lack of evidence.
Wednesday's ruling means the prelate will remain in a maximum security prison for the remainder of his six-year sentence. For his safety, he spends approximately 23 hours per day in solitary confinement.