Cardinal George Pell has child sex abuse convictions upheld by Australian court

Pope Francis’s former finance minister had been found guilty of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in the 1990s

George Pell's guilty verdict was upheld by judges at the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne.
George Pell's guilty verdict was upheld by judges at the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne.

Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic ever to be found guilty of child sex abuse, has had his convictions upheld by an Australian court.

Pope Francis's former finance minister was guilty of molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne's St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1996 and 1997 in December.

At the time, Pell had just become archbishop of Australia's second largest city and had set up a world-first compensation arrangement for victims of clergy sexual abuse.

Now the Victoria state Court of Appeal has upheld the unanimous verdicts the jury gave last year by a 2-1 majority ruling.

Pell, arrived at the court in a prison van, showed no emotion when Chief Justice Anne Ferguson read the verdict to a packed courtroom but bowed his head moments later.

The 78-year-old wore a cleric's collar but not his cardinal's ring.

He was led away by a guard after the verdict which his lawyers are expected to appeal in the High Court, Australia's final arbiter.

The Vatican, which is conducting its own investigation into sex abuse allegations against Pell, is expected to comment on the court's ruling at a later date.

Pell is no longer a member of Pope Francis's council of cardinals or a Vatican official.

The former archbishop's lawyers had to prove to the appeals court that the jury that unanimously convicted him in December must have held a reasonable doubt about his guilt.

An earlier trial had ended in a deadlocked jury. An 11-to-1 majority decision to either convict or acquit could have been accepted, but at least two jurors held out.

Prosecutors replied that the evidence of more than 20 priests, choristers, altar servers and church officials showed there were "possible hindrances" to the prosecution case, but did not preclude the jury from being satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of guilt.

Pell's lawyers have argued argue the events in 1996 as described in the prosecution case were "improbable and even impossible" to have happened quickly and in part of the cathedral where altar servers and priests were likely to walk in at any moment.

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One of the choirboys, identified by the sentencing judge as JJ, was the key prosecution witness. His friend, identified as MR, died of a heroin overdose in 2014 at the age of 31 without ever complaining he had been abused.

The father of the dead choirboy, neither of whom can be named, attended the appeal hearing,

Pell did not testify at either of his trials, but both juries saw a video of a police interview of him in Rome in 2016 in which he rejected the allegations as "absolutely disgraceful rubbish" and a "deranged falsehood."

When sentencing Pell to six years in prison in March, the trial judge accused him of showing "staggering arrogance" in his crimes, before he was ordered to serve a minimum of three-years-and-eight months before he was eligible for parole.

Agencies contributed to this report

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