Australian Cardinal George Pell has been taken into custody for the first time since historic child sex abuse charges against him were set for hearing in May 2018.
The former prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy and former member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals will remain behind bars ahead of his sentencing March 13 after the chief judge of the Victorian County Court, Peter Kidd, who presided over the trial, heard pleas for his sentence on February 27.
Australian lawyers said it could take more than a year for an appeal to be heard and adjudicated if the case is treated normally. A successful appeal could see the conviction overturned or result in a retrial, depending on the grounds of any successful appeal.
In December, Cardinal Pell was convicted of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in 1996 in the sacristy of Melbourne’s St Mary’s Cathedral. He was found guilty of one count of sexual (oral) penetration with a child under age 16 and four counts of indecent acts with or in the presence of a child under 16, but the court’s decision was gagged at the time pending a second trial. This was due to take place in April, but prosecutors withdrew the charges, allowing the convictions to be revealed on February 26.
The appeal has been lodged on three grounds, including that the unanimous conviction by a 12-person jury is “unsafe” and “unsatisfactory”. The appeal process is long and complex; the first step is for the prosecution to respond to the defence appeal within 28 days.
Following that, a date will be set by the Victorian Supreme Court’s Appeals Division – the highest court in the state – to hear arguments from prosecutors and defence counsel and decide whether it believes there are grounds to hear a full appeal. If so, an appeal hearing will take place, but these two processes could also take place at once. A decision on an appeal would be heard by one justice and a full appeal, or joint process, by three justices.
If the appeal is successful due to a legal mistake by the trial judge there will be retrial, but if the conviction is found to be “unsafe and unsatisfactory”, the conviction will immediately be expunged and Cardinal Pell will be set free.
During the appeal process, Cardinal Pell has been banned by the Vatican from exercising ministry or having contact with minors.
Catholic News Service