Former Vatican treasurer George Pell will remain in prison after an Australian appeals court rejected his lawyers’ attempts to overturn the disgraced cardinal’s conviction for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys in the 1990s.
The most senior Catholic official to ever be convicted of child sexual assault, Pell was sentenced in March to six years in prison, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months, for an attack described by Chief Judge Peter Kidd as “breathtakingly arrogant.”
Lawyers for the 78-year-old cardinal immediately appealed his conviction, and in June presented 13 “solid obstacles” to a guilty verdict on all five charges, including that it was “not possible” for Pell to be alone while robed after Sunday mass and for no one to notice the boys were missing during the attack.
On Wednesday, the panel of three senior judges rejected that submission, finding the jury was justified in finding Pell guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, based on the evidence presented at his five-week trial.
From the dock in court 15, Pell showed little reaction as Chief Justice Anne Ferguson delivered Wednesday’s verdict, which followed more than two months of deliberation between three judges who returned a ruling with vote two for and one against.
Last December, a 12-member jury found Pell guilty of attacking the boys in the priest’s sacristy after Sunday mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne when he was Archbishop of Melbourne. He was also found guilty of pushing one of the boys up against a wall and squeezing his genitals in a busy corridor about one month later.
The five guilty verdicts — one count of sexual penetration of a child and four counts of committing an indecent act with a child — were largely based on the testimony of one of the boys, now in his 30s, who gave his evidence to a closed court. The second choirboy died several years ago from an accidental heroin overdose, having never told anyone about the abuse.
Chief Judge Kidd had suppressed reporting of Pell’s trial to prevent prejudicing a second trial, which did not go ahead. Pell’s guilty verdict was revealed in February, and in March he was sentenced to six years in prison.
Pell’s lawyers have not yet said if they’ll appeal Wednesday’s ruling in Australia’s High Court, the country’s highest-ranking court, which would make a final ruling that is not subject to appeal.
This is a breaking news story. More to come.
By Hilary Whiteman, CNN