After a deeply controversial guilty verdict in a child sexual abuse case stemming from decades-old allegations, Cardinal George Pell has been sentenced to six years in prison on on five counts of abuse of minors. He will be eligible for parole in 3 years and 8 months. Pell has maintained his innocence throughout the trial, and his appeal of the verdict is expected to be heard this June. According to the Catholic News Agency (CNA):
It was the cardinal’s second trial, as a jury in an earlier trial had failed to reach a unanimous verdict. The first jury were deadlocked 10-2 in Pell’s favor, multiple sources close to the case told CNA.
His appeal will be made on three points: the jury’s reliance on the evidence of a single victim, an irregularity that kept Pell from entering his not guilty plea in front of the jury, and the defense not being allowed to show a visual representation supporting his claim of innocence.
The appeal document says that “the verdicts are unreasonable and cannot be supported, having regard to the evidence, because on the whole of the evidence, including unchallenged exculpatory evidence from more than 20 Crown witnesses, it was not open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the word of the complainant alone.”
As work on Pell’s appeal moves forward, a separate canonical investigation into the charges against Pell is anticipated in Rome. According to CNA’s Ed Condon, the Vatican investigation will rely heavily on what has already transpired in the civil case:
Pell’s canon lawyers are likely to argue for, even insist on, a full trial in Rome – itself a far lengthier process which could take at least as long as Pell’s civil trial.
Before this can even begin, the initial stages of the canonical process involve a preliminary investigation charged with gathering readily-available information on the charges. This will almost certainly include the evidence used in court to convict Pell in Victoria, but Vatican investigators and Pell’s own canonists will be equally interested in any new material which becomes available during his appeal.
In all likelihood, while a canonical process against Pell may well be officially underway in Rome, it is highly unlikely to begin in earnest until he is either vindicated by an Australian court or exhausts his appeal options.
Condon also reports observations that there have been “decades of media focus and vilification directed personally at Pell,” a fact that Judge Peter Kid noted. “We have witnessed, outside of this court and within our community, examples of a witch-hunt or a lynch mob mentality in relation to you, Cardinal Pell,” the judge said.
According to Condon,
The extent to which this mob mentality might have played a role inside the court will likely feature in Pell’s appeal. Such a mentality was crucial in overturning the conviction of Archbishop Philip Wilson last year, when a judge found that the conviction was aimed at the Church as an institution and did not reflect the evidence against Wilson.
Wilson, another Australian bishop, was convicted last May of neglect in reporting clerical child abuse allegations. His conviction was overturned after he served five months out of a year-long home detention sentence.
Pell is said to be spending most of his time in solitary confinement for his own protection.