It is understood that Cardinal George Pell will appeal his conviction to the Australian High Court, following the decision earlier this month by the Court of Appeal in Victoria to uphold his conviction for child sexual abuse.
It has been reported that the Australian prelate would be exercising his final appeal and that, while the majority of “special leave to appeal” cases were not granted by the High Court, his case would likely be accepted given the controversy triggered by the split decision of the Appeal Court judgement.
In seeking to take his case to the High Court in Canberra, Australia’s supreme court, Cardinal Pell will be exercising his last legal avenue to overturn a conviction which has divided opinion in the country and internationally.
The cardinal was convicted in December, on five charges of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral more than two decades ago. He was sentenced to six years in prison, of which he must serve at least three years and eight months before being eligible to apply for parole.
Earlier this month, in a 2-1 ruling, the court rejected Pell’s appeal of a unanimous jury verdict in December that Pope Francis’ former finance minister was guilty of the crimes.
Chief Justice Anne Ferguson said that: “Cardinal Pell’s conviction and this appeal have attracted widespread attention, both in Australia and beyond. He is a senior figure in the Catholic Church and is internationally well known. “As the trial judge, Chief Judge Kidd, commented when sentencing Cardinal Pell, there has been vigorous and sometimes emotional criticism of the cardinal and he has been publicly vilified in some sections of the community.”
“There has also been strong public support for the cardinal by others. Indeed, it is fair to say that his case has divided the community.”
The decision by Pell to pursue the final legal avenue open to him means that a canonical process in Rome will be further delayed until the civil process concludes in Australia.
Responding to the Court of Appeal decision last week, Matteo Bruni, Holy See press office director, said that “the Holy See acknowledges the court’s decision to dismiss Cardinal Pell’s appeal”, while reiterating its “respect for the Australian judicial system”.
“As the proceedings continue to develop, the Holy See recalls that the Cardinal has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court.”