Pell was known to habitually celebrate the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass, at which the choir regularly sang, while he served as Archbishop of Melbourne.
However, Melbourne’s cathedral was undergoing restoration work at the time of his installation in August 1996, which prevented Pell from being installed in the cathedral building itself or from regularly celebrating Mass there for several weeks.
In fact, during the pre-trial committal hearing in March 2018, records were produced showing that during the period between August and December 1996, Pell only celebrated the cathedral’s 10:30 Sunday Mass twice.
According to a source present for the pre-trial hearing, on both of the occasions on which Pell celebrated the cathedral’s 10:30 Mass during the designated period, the choir held practices for the taping of a Christmas performance immediately following the 10:30 Mass, when the absence of two choristers would have been immediately noticed.
Cathedral and choir leaders and former members testified at the pre-trial hearing that choir leaders kept a close eye on the children and would have noticed if any slipped away. Former choir director Peter Finigan testified at the committal hearing that while it would have been possible for two choir members to break from their group, he did not remember that it had ever happened.
“Two altos going missing would have stood out right away, as would their late arrival for the practice straight after Mass,” a source present at the committal hearing told CNA.
“That much was crystal clear.”
During the same committal hearing in March, a pastoral associate at the cathedral, Rodney Dearing, told the court that Pell required help to remove his vestments after every Mass, and it would have been nearly impossible for the archbishop to expose his genitals while fully vested, or to commit other sexual acts in the vestments.
Dearing also told Victoria police that the layout of the cathedral did not align with the accusations.
“I can’t understand, knowing the layout [of the cathedral] and how things worked, how it could have occurred,” Dearing told police, according to Australian media reports filed before a gag order on the trial was instituted.
CNA has previously reported that concerns were raised about the layout of the cathedral sacristy, where the abuse is alleged to have taken place, which is open-planned and usually full of people following Mass.
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Further evidence was reportedly heard during the November trial confirming that Pell only celebrated 10:30 a.m. Mass in the cathedral twice during the alleged timeframe of the events, and the court heard witness testimony that Pell had been with guests immediately following Mass on one of the two Sundays.
Sources close to the trial underscored to CNA that cases of sexual abuse often rely on the persuasive testimony of the victims, and that due to the nature of sexual abuse crimes, corroborating evidence is difficult to present. In such cases, the relative reliability of the victims can be a crucial factor.
During Pell’s trial, the judge reportedly excluded both the prosecution and the defense from disclosing to the jury or discussing in court anything which could bear upon the credibility of the accuser.
When asked how the jury could have delivered a unanimous conviction despite the seeming weight of evidence in his favor, several trial attendees noted that Pell refused to give evidence in his own defense.
“Pell didn’t take the stand, and that definitely made a negative impression; it doesn’t look good if you won’t deny it with your own lips,” one source told CNA.
Others close to the cardinal defended the decision not to have Pell take the stand.