Canberra, Australia, Mar 10, 2020 / 22:30 pm
The legal team for Cardinal George Pell laid out their case for appeal before Australia’s High Court Wednesday.
Pell himself remained in his prison cell, not permitted at the proceedings, while his lawyers presented arguments before the seven-judge court in Canberra March 11.
Pell is seeking to appeal the 2-1 split decision of the Court of Appeal in Victoria to sustain his 2018 conviction on five counts of child sexual abuse over two separate instances.
Bret Walker, Pell’s lead barrister, faced questions from the justices over the course of five hours as he presented arguments in Pell’s favor. Walker outlined a case for appeal grounded in the findings of Victoria Justice Mark Weinberg, whose dissenting opinion in August found that the cardinal had been convicted on the evidence of a single alleged victim, despite the exculpatory testimony of as many as 20 witnesses, and that the jury could not have found him guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
While lawyers argued inside, more than 100 Vietnamese Catholics lined the entrance to the High Court, praying and singing hymns, and aiming to show their support for Cardinal Pell. The demonstrators said they had travelled by bus from Sydney, departing at dawn from their homes.
Many members of the Vietnamese Catholic community in Australia have remained supportive of Pell throughout his trial and appeals, citing 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, with Pell hosting the Vietnamese cardinal as archbishop of both Sydney and Melbourne .
Walker outlined four different lines of argument, beginning with the logistics of Pell’s alleged 1996 sexual assault on two teenage choristers in Melbourne’s cathedral. Pell was convicted of committing acts of sexual assault on two choir boys simultaneously for five to six minutes in the cathedral sacristy, while he was fully vested after Mass. Walker suggested that would be practically impossible.
The lawyer then highlighted testimony from multiple witnesses offering an alibi for Pell during the time the assault is supposed to have taken place, and noted that the sacristy would have been a “hive of activity” at the time of the assault.