Cardinal George Pell of Australia was found guilty of sexual assault back in December. In March, he was sentenced to six years in prison for sexually abusing two choir boys more than twenty years ago.
Cardinal Pell has maintained his innocence, and appealed the conviction. On Wednesday, the court upheld the previous ruling, meaning that Pell will continue to serve his six year sentence.
Pell is the highest-ranking Catholic clergyman to be convicted in the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal. After serving as archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, he moved to the Vatican in 2014 when Pope Francis appointed him to serve as the Secretariat for the Economy. While serving in that role, which had only just been created, Pell was essentially the third-in-command at the Vatican.
Pell was convicted of five counts relating to his abuse of two choirboys in December 1996 after a mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne. He forced one of the boys to perform oral sex on him while he groped the other. In February 1997 he abused one of the boys again in the cathedral.
Only one of Pell's victims is alive today, the other died of a heroin overdose years ago. One wonders what the abuse he suffered did to contribute to his heroin addiction.
Chief Justice Anne Ferguson broadcast online about her belief in the witness testimony. “The complainant was a very compelling witness,” she said. “He was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth.”
Pell's lawyers tried to argue that Pell could not have exposed himself to the two boys because of the nature of the robes he wore, but Chief Justice Ferguson and Judge Chris Maxwell examined the robes and were unconvinced. The jury was also allowed to see the robes, and they still reached a unanimous verdict that Pell was guilty.
The decision on the appeal, however, was not unanimous. Mark Weinberg, a third judge, said he believed that the victim fabricated the story.
Some of the reactions to Pell's case include Australian criminal defense lawyer Chris Murphy, who tweeted "Pell is a pedophile. Woe betide those who clapped him as a saint."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Pell would be stripped of his Order of Australia honor.
I am relieved that the court upheld the conviction, despite Weinberg not believing the witness (because everyone loves to make a hobby out of falsely accusing priests, right?) We can be glad Ferguson and Maxwell made the right call and sent Pell back to prison. The only disappointment here is that it took more than twenty years to send Pell to prison in the first place.
In the meantime, at least Pell is inspiring new works of art.
I previously wrote about Pell's case on May 2, 2018, Dec. 14, 2018, Feb. 26, 2019, and Mar. 13, 2019.