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MELBOURNE, Victoria (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal George Pell's attorneys say that the prosecutor is "mischaracterizing" their appeal to Australia's highest court.
In their appeal application to the High Court of Australia submitted in September, the cardinal's attorneys argued that the court required Cdl. Pell to prove that the alleged offense was impossible, rather than placing the burden of proof on the prosecution.
"There did remain a reasonable doubt as to the existence of any opportunity for the offending to have occurred," the appeal application stated.
Earlier this month, Victoria's Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd responded to the appeal by claiming that it "identifies no error in the majority approach and no question of law for this court to resolve; it does no more than ask this court to substitute for the view taken by the majority and the jury a different view of the evidence."
However, the cardinal's attorneys say this grossly mischaracterizes the basis of their appeal, which they say has to do with the burden of proof and the facts of the case.
In a reply to the prosecution filed Monday, the cardinal's legal counsel stated, "In the absence of any challenge to the correctness (let alone honesty) of that recollection by the prosecution at trial, the 'alibi' was not, on proper application of the law, anywhere near eliminated."
Cardinal Pell's attorneys argued that the Crown failed to give an answer on "the question whether belief in a complainant can coexist with reasonable doubt due to the burden and standard of proof."
The High Court of Australia has not yet announced whether it will actually hear Cdl. Pell's appeal.
Cardinal Pell is now in prison, having been found guilty last December on five charges related to sexual abuse of minors. In March, the cardinal was sentenced to six years behind bars.
The charges stem from an allegation that Cdl. Pell sexually assaulted two choir boys in the sacristy of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996.
He filed an initial appeal, which was heard by a panel of three judges in Victoria's Court of Appeal. But that panel ruled against the cardinal in a 2-1 decision announced in August.
Pell's appeal application to the High Court argued, "The majority [of the three-judge panel] erred by finding that their belief in the complainant required the applicant (Pell) to establish that the offending was impossible in order to raise and leave a doubt."
When the jury found Cdl. Pell guilty back in December, Australian media was unable to report on it owing to a gag order issued by the judge. When media companies outside Australia reported on the verdict, they received threats of legal action.
The gag order on Cdl. Pell's conviction was officially lifted in February, after prosecutors dropped charges related to a separate sex abuse allegation from the 1970s. In the wake of that, some commentators and many Catholics opined that the cardinal was likely innocent — or, at the very least, that there was not enough evidence to convict him.
Australian conservative pundit Andrew Bolt argued that Cdl. Pell might be the victim of a witch hunt. Bolt, an agnostic and a long-time defender of Pell, said on his Sky News Australia show in February, "I have serious misgivings about this verdict. I just can't accept it, based on what I consider is the overwhelming evidence of this trial."
Bolt went on to say, "Pell, it seems to me, could well be an innocent man who is being made to pay for the sins of his Church — and made to pay after an astonishing campaign of media vilification."
Miranda Devine, Australian conservative and a Catholic, wrote in a column at the time, "I don't believe that Pell, who I know slightly and admire greatly, could be guilty of sexually assaulting two choirboys in a busy cathedral after Sunday Mass when he was archbishop of Melbourne in 1996."
"Many people believe the evidence of the complaintant does not add up, and is not beyond reasonable doubt," a Change.org petition created in February states.
It also says, "The undersigned simply wish to have their names recorded and their voices heard by the Victorian judicial system. We hope that George Cardinal Pell will be offered a proper and thorough appeal."
In roughly eight months, the online petition has garnered more than 25,000 signatures.
When Victoria Police leveled charges against Cdl. Pell in 2017, the prelate willingly left the Vatican to go back to Australia and fight the charges head-on.
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