While many Aussies are busy watching Round One of the State of Origin rugby league series tonight, I am too preoccupied with Cardinal Pell’s appeal to care. This appeal, which is running for two days (Wednesday and Thursday this week) also ties in with this week’s rather unintended theme surrounding the issue of child sexual abuse and the Church, which I’ve examined from a variety of angles.
Cardinal Pell’s trial and guilty verdict in March have been extensively covered by the media, and proved to be a very divisive topic. For my own part, I do not doubt his innocence.
Besides the fact that the offences he’s alleged to have committed were highly improbable at best, I’ve known Cardinal Pell for years. I attended his installation Mass as Archbishop of Sydney, and lived under his bishopric while he remained in that position. He wasn’t perfect, but he was the best thing that happened to the Sydney archdiocese for a long time.
Like many, I was devastated to learn of his guilty conviction. His prior history, the evidence given, the fact that he voluntarily flew back to Australia from the Vatican to face trial when he didn’t have to – all of it made us sure the allegations would be dropped.
Some may not be aware, but his guilty verdict was delivered during a retrial. The jury could not come to an agreement during his first trial – in fact 8 out of 10 jurors believed in his innocence. To go from that to a unanimous guilty verdict is astonishing to say the least.
I don’t want to get into all the details of why his guilt simply was not beyond reasonable doubt. If you’re interested, I suggest reading Fr Frank Brennan’s account. (If there are other articles worth reading please give them a shout-out in the comments.)
Most Catholics I know have been anxiously awaiting this appeal, which is being live-streamed by the Supreme Court today and tomorrow. It has been an incredibly emotional journey for many Catholics in Australia. The animosity and the vitriol so many have flung at the Cardinal has been truly shocking, and it has made my heart clench with pain to think of the 77-year-old sitting alone in prison these past three months.
I’ve decided to pray and fast for the outcome of this appeal. I encourage other Catholics to do so, too.
I will leave this now, hoping and praying that justice prevails in this case, but that above all, God’s will is done. Here are some comments from a Daily Telegraph story (the article is behind a paywall) on the first day of the appeal:
Submissions on behalf of Pell’s lawyers and prosecutors were this morning made public.
In his appeal application, Pell’s lawyers have raised a string of reasons they say the offending was simply impossible.
Pell wants each of his five convictions quashed and replaced by verdicts of acquittal.
Among the reasons they pointed to witness evidence at trial saying “witnesses gave evidence, either explicitly or to the effect, that the offences alleged did not or could not have occurred”.
Other reasons relied on include:
• THE timing of the alleged assaults was impossible,
• IT was not possible for Pell to be alone in the sacristies only a few minutes after the end of Mass,
• IT was not possible for Pell to be robed and alone in the priests’ sacristy after Mass,
• IT was not possible for two choir boys to be sexually assaulted in the priests’ sacristy after Mass by Pell undetected,
• IT was not possible for two robed sopranos to leave an external procession without being noticed,
• OFFICIALS near the sacristy corridor door at the time did not see the complainant or the other boy,
• IT was not possible for the complainant and the other boy to be absent from the choir room unnoticed,
• IT was not possible for the complainant and the other boy to re-enter the choir room unnoticed,
• THE criminal acts attributed to Pell were physically impossible,
• THE Crown case that the second incident occurred in 1997 was contrary to the complainant’s evidence,
• NO one corroborated the second incident though the complainant said it happened in the midst of a 50 person choir,
• IT was not possible for Pell to be in that part of the sacristy corridor at the time of the second incident.
They have also raised a concern that the “learned trial Judge gave a significant forensic disadvantage warning and an honest but erroneous memory warning”.
Pell’s lawyers are relying on three grounds of appeal.
The first is that the guilty verdict was unreasonable and cannot be supported having regard to the evidence.
They argue “it was not open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the word of the complainant alone”.
Pell’s second ground of appeal is that trial judge Peter Kidd, the chief judge of the County Court, erred by preventing the defence from using a moving visual representation of its impossibility argument during the closing address.
The third ground is that there was a fundamental irregularity in the trial process because the accused was not arraigned in the presence of the jury panel.Submissions on behalf of Pell’s lawyers and prosecutors were this morning made public.
If you have access, you can read the full article here.