The Associated Press MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The most senior Roman Catholic found guilty of child sex abuse began his court appeal Wednesday against his convictions on charges of molesting two choirboys in an Australian cathedral more than 20 years ago.
Cardinal George Pell, 77, wore a cleric’s collar as he appeared for the Victoria state Court of Appeal hearing being heard by three judges on Wednesday and Thursday.
A jury unanimously convicted Pell in December of orally raping a 13-year-old choirboy and indecently dealing with the boy and the boy’s 13-year-old friend in Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in the late 1990s. Pell had become archbishop of Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, only months before.
Court orders for months had prevented publication of the details of that trial and an earlier trial on similar charges that had ended in September with a deadlocked jury.
Pell was sentenced in March to six years in prison. He is held in special protective custody because pedophiles are regarded as being at higher risk of harm from other prisoners.
While Pell remains Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic, the Vatican is conducting its own investigation into the convictions of Pope Francis’s former finance minister.
Francis’ papacy has been thrown into turmoil by clerical sexual abuse and the church’s handling of such cases worldwide. In a little more than a year, the pope has admitted he made “grave errors” in Chile’s worst case of a cover-up, Pell was convicted of abuse, a French cardinal was convicted of failing to report a pedophile, and a third cardinal, former U.S. church leader Theodore McCarrick, was defrocked after a Vatican investigation determined he molested children and adults.
Pell’s lawyer Bret Walker told the three judges the main ground for appeal was that the jury could not have found Pell guilty beyond reasonable doubt on the evidence.
In written submissions, Pell’s lawyers argue that more than 20 prosecution witnesses who had an official role in the Sunday Mass in 1996, after which the then-Archbishop Pell molested the boys in a rear room over five or six minutes, gave evidence that the offences did not or could not have occurred.
“This evidence constituted a catalogue of at least 13 solid obstacles in the path of a conviction,” the submissions said.