A group of local Catholics gathered outside Melbourne prison on Christmas Eve to sing carols for Cardinal George Pell, currently incarcerated in the facility, and to pray for him, as well as the other inmates and prison staff.

At 8pm on December 24, about two dozen local Catholics gathered outside Melbourne Assessment Prison on the west side of the city center to sing Christmas carols and to pray for the cardinal and others in the jail.

One of the singers, John McCauley told CNA that "We just wanted the Cardinal to know he was loved and remembered at Christmas." The songs included traditional carols like O Come All Ye Faithful and Once in Royal David's City, as well as Australian favorites like The Three Drovers. Singers wrote messages of support and Christmas greetings in a copy of the carol book, which was left for Pell at the prison's front desk.

After the caroling, Melbourne's Vietnamese Catholic Youth Group led a rosary procession around the perimeter of the prison, which houses more than 300 inmates. Decades of the Sorrowful Mysteries were offered for the cardinal, for the prison staff, for the other inmates, for victims of sexual abuse, and for "the vindication of the rights of the Church and His Eminence's full and speedy exoneration." 

Several of the Vietnamese youth attending explained that they were inspired to attend in support of Pell by the example of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyễn Văn Thuận, who was imprisoned by Communist authorities in Vietnam for 13 years, nine of them in solitary confinement. Pell and Cardinal Thuận were friends until his death in 2002.

McCauley said that the gathering "came together quite spontaneously after an individual going under the name 'Albert Dreyfus' suggested the idea on a social media earlier that day."

Albert Dreyfus was a Jewish French military officer tried and convicted for treason by a secret court in 1895. His case polarized the country and he was later exonerated after years of imprisonment.

Cardinal Pell was Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996-2001, when he was made Archbishop of Sydney. In 2014, Pope Francis appointed him as head of the newly created Prefecture for the Economy, charged with overseeing and reforming Vatican finances.

In 2017, Pell was accused of sexually abusing two choristers after a Sunday Mass while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997. He was convicted Dec. 11, 2018, on five charges of sexual abuse and 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.

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In November, the Australian High Court in Canberra agreed to hear his application for special leave to appeal, after the Court of Appeal in the state of Victoria upheld his conviction in July in a decision which deeply divided opinion both in Australia and abroad.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP of Sydney has said he "welcomed" the progress of Pell's case to the High Court.

"The Cardinal has always maintained his innocence and continues to do so," Fisher said. "The divided judgment of the Court of Appeal reflects the divided opinion amongst jurors, legal commentators and within our community." 

"For the sake of all involved in this case, I hope that the appeal will be heard as soon as possible," Fisher said in November.

Pell, who remains an archbishop and a member of the College of Cardinals, has been held in solitary confinement and has not been permitted to celebrate Mass in prison. He was not permitted to see visitors on Christmas Day.

Earlier this month, former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbot what criticized by political opponents for visiting Pell in prison, with some politicians branding the visit "disgraceful" and a "cruel insult" to victims of abuse.

Abbot declined to comment on the criticism beyond saying he was 'simply visiting a friend' in Melbourne Assessment Prison.

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