Cardinal George Pell will remain behind bars after his appeal against a conviction for sexually abusing two choirboys was turned down by the Supreme Court of Appeal in Victoria on Wednesday.
The court upheld the original conviction, meaning Australia’s most senior Catholic official must serve out his six-year sentence, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.
On hearing the decision after the 15 second delay, a loud cheer could be heard from outside the courthouse where Pell’s detractors had congregated.
He can seek leave to appeal to the High Court, but such appeals were rarely granted unless there is a contentious point of law up for debate.
A further appeal would likely see an argument resume over whether he could be released while the matter progresses to the higher court.
Cardinal George Pell (pictured arriving in court) will remain behind bars after the Supreme Court of Appeal in Victoria ruled a jury that condemned him got it right
Pell arrives at the court on Wednesday morning ahead of the appeal judgement being read
The denial of Cardinal Pell’s appeal was decided by the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, Justice Anne Ferguson, president of the Court of Appeal Justice Chris Maxwell, and Justice Mark Weinberg.
It took them nine weeks to release their decision.
His unsuccessful appeal is likely to bring an end to the ongoing saga, which has dragged on for years across three court jurisdictions.
Justice Ferguson, in reading the verdict from 9.30am on Wednesday, acknowledged ‘it’s fair to say that this case has divided the community’.
She also stressed that Pell’s conviction only affected the crimes he committed, and shouldn’t be seen as an indictment of anything else.
‘As the trial judge observed, he is not to be made a scapegoat for any perceived failings of the Catholic Church, nor for any failure in relation to child sexual abuse by other clergy,’ she said.
‘His conviction and sentence could not be a vindication of the trauma by other victims of sexual abuse.’
In the initial hearing, a jury found him guilty of sexually abusing two boys in the priests’ sacristy at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral after presiding over one of his first Sunday masses as archbishop in the 1990s.
Cuffed and humiliated: George Pell is led back to jail to await his fate. He now faces an uncertain future after losing his appeal
George Pell appeared back in his traditional clerical garb after attending his sentence in civilian attire. Pell took notes and listened intently to every detail of his two-day appeal
The jury further accepted he abused one of the boys a second time in a corridor at the rear of the cathedral after another Sunday mass.
For Pell’s haters, the verdict was heralded as the right decision.
Others were not so sure.
Pell’s defence had been confident in clearing the Cardinal’s name.
They firmly believed the jury got it wrong and the injustice needed to be corrected.
A conviction against Pell was always going to be difficult.
At his first trial, which was held in secret, the jury could not agree on a verdict.
They needed to be discharged and the trial had to run again with a fresh jury.
Legal experts believed the outcome would be the same.
Only one victim was able to testify against Pell.
The other died of a heroin overdose in 2014 and never reported the alleged abuse.
Top barrister Robert Richter, QC had grilled the surviving victim in a grueling cross examination during Pell’s trial.
So masterful was it that Mr Richter’s opponent at appeal, Crown prosecutor Chris Boyce QC, paid tribute to it during Pell’s two-day appeal this month.
Pell’s barrister had left no stone unturned, which is why, the prosecution argued, the victim’s account was so believable.
‘It was absolutely compelling,’ Mr Boyce said. ‘He was clearly not a liar. He was not a fantasist. He was a witness of truth.’
A protestor holding placards opposing the Catholic Church protests outside the Supreme Court of Victoria. George Pell will remain despised by many no matter what the outcome of his appeal
George Pell in the Vatican in 2005. Pell rolled the dice on a last ditch bid for freedom in the Supreme Court of Appeal
Only 13 at the time, the man said he never told a soul about what happened to him and his mate that day after mass.
The choirboys had sneaked into the sacristy for a swig of wine directly after the service.
Pell caught them and sexually assaulted the pair.
It was over in minutes in what could only be described as a ‘moment of madness’ by Pell.
The boys never even spoke about it again among themselves.
‘They just wanted to get on with their lives,’ Mr Boyce said. ‘This was an anomaly – like something from out of space.’
Prosecutors said the boy had never been in the sacristy before and was able to recount important details of the room.
Pell’s defence had it’s doubts and fought hard to prove the jury ought to have had doubts too.
At the first trial, the jury produced a majority of ten jurors voting to acquit and only two voting guilty.
Pell went down 12-to-nil for guilty at his second trial.
With fresh eyes on the case, Sydney barrister Bret Walker SC was determined to prove this jury had got it very wrong.
He claimed more than 20 prosecution witnesses who had an official role in that Sunday’s solemn mass – after which the jury accepted the offending occurred – gave evidence the offences did not or could not have occurred.
George Pell’s victim claimed the Cardinal pulled aside his robes and sexually assaulted him. Pell’s defence say it just could not have happened
George Pell’s barrister Bret Walker SC leaves the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne. He put on a powerful and confident display when he was called to plead Pell’s case
Pell’s argument for freedom
The timing of the alleged assaults was impossible.
It was not possible for Pell to be alone in the sacristies only a few minutes after the end of Mass.
It was not possible for Pell to be robed and alone in the priests’ sacristy after Mass.
It was not possible for two choir boys to be sexually assaulted in the priests’ sacristy after Mass by Pell undetected.
It was not possible for two robed sopranos to leave an external procession without being noticed.
The criminal acts attributed to Pell were physically impossible.
No one corroborated the second incident though the complainant said it happened in the midst of a 50-person choir
County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd erred in not allowing Pell’s defence to present a video in his closing arguments, and that there was a ‘fundamental irregularity’ in how Pell was arraigned at trial.
They included Pell’s Master of Ceremonies, the Sacristan who was in charge of the sacristies, adult altar servers, adults in charge of the choir and a large number of ex-choirboys.
Pell had an alibi that could not be ignored by the jury, he claimed.
Further, it had ‘no rational basis to reject evidence’.
‘No rational basis for rejecting this evidence was ever advanced by the prosecution at trial,’ he submitted.
‘The complainant’s claims were so implausible that a reasonable jury must have had a reasonable doubt.’
Mr Walker said it was beyond the ‘law of physics’ the Cardinal could have have abused young choirboys.
The experienced barrister went immediately on the attack and did not let up all day.
He told the court his client couldn’t have sexually assaulted the boys in the sacristy if he was meeting parishioners at the western door of St Patrick’s Cathedral — adding that the distance was ‘as good as being across the Tasman’ in the eyes of the law.
‘If he was at the western door then the law of physics means this is literally and logically impossible for the offending to have occurred,’ he said.
Pell always denied the abuse and appealed his conviction on three grounds: that the jury verdict was unreasonable, and that two errors were made in the way the trial was run.
The sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne where the offences Cardinal George Pell was found guilty of occurred. A victim was able to identify details within the room
Cardinal George Pell presides over the mass at the Barangaroo site for the opening of World Youth Day in Sydney on Tuesday, July 15, 2008. He would have been wearing similar robes when he committed the alleged sex offences
What the judges said during the retrial
Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Ferguson asked why Pell could not have exposed himself in his ceremonial robes.
Judge Mark Weinberg queried why Pell’s legal team had labelled the offending ‘impossible’.
‘It’s quite misleading in lots of ways, it seems to me,’ he said.
Justice Chris Maxwell suggested it was ‘wildly improbable’ that someone of Pell’s height and stature would not have been seen approaching two choirboys.
He further asked prosecutors why Pell would abuse those boys in a place with many potential witnesses
Justice Weinberg said juries almost always get it right. ‘Almost,’ he emphasised.
Justice Maxwell asked prosecutors why the victim didn’t warn the second chorister after he was abused for a second time by Pell
‘Boys talk, don’t they?’ he said.
The judges are expected to deliver their findings this week
The prosecution refuted all of Pell’s defence, which repeatedly claimed it was all but impossible for the Cardinal to have committed the crimes.
For one, he could never have lifted his heavy robes to perform the acts he was convicted of doing, they said.
Mr Boyce took over the heavy lifting in the appeal from Mark Gibson QC, who secured a conviction against the Cardinal at his County Court trial.
But in an animated display. Mr Boyce stumbled through a day of submissions in a nervous display.
At one point, the hearing was halted after the prosecutor named Pell’s victim in open court.
Under the law, naming of sex abuse victims is strictly forbidden to be aired in public.
The hearing had been streamed live to the world on a 15 second delay, which spared the worried victim being outed.
Mr Boyce was warned to keep the victim’s name out of his future public submissions.
Continuing, Mr Boyce was repeatedly asked to explain himself more thoroughly and was criticised for speculating on what Pell’s jury might have been thinking.
At one stage, the prosecutor conceded he was a bit muddled.
‘The point I’m making, and I don’t think extremely well,’ he said. ‘Is the point your honour is making.’
At his sentence in March, Pell looked tired, unwell and broken.
In previous hearings he had stared defiantly at people in the court who dared challenge his gaze.
Now he sat in civilian clothes – defeated.
Pell was back to his confident best in the packed Supreme Court courtroom during his appeal.
Brought into court scruffy and handcuffed, the Cardinal entered the court tall and defiant.
He took notes throughout the two day proceedings and even found it in him to have a quiet chuckle.
The former senior Vatican official (pictured) was transported from prison to the Victorian Supreme Court in Melbourne on Wednesday for his appeal hearing
The prosecution argued the one issue for the jury was whether the acts Pell was accused of had happened.
‘By and large none of these witnesses were in a position to say that the offending ‘did not happen’,’ the prosecution submissions stated.
‘Rather, the evidence from a handful of witnesses suggested that certain scenarios, such as the Archbishop being alone and robed, were unlikely.’
Prosecutors countered each of the defence claims, arguing evidence showed it was possible for Pell to have committed the assaults.
Pells appearance at court marked the first time he had been spotted since sentencing in mid-March (pictured, a protestor could be seen standing outside the Supreme Court as Pell began his appeal hearing)
‘The events described by various witnesses … established that there was more than ample opportunity and circumstances for the offending, described by the complainant, to have occurred,’ their submissions claimed.
‘The day itself, whilst significant and memorable for the complainant, could not be described as remarkable for anyone else who was simply going about the business of Sunday mass.’
During the appeal, one judge mused that juries ‘almost always get it right’ but highlighted the word ‘almost’.
This one got it right, it decided.