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Steve Jalsevac / LifeSite
Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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Cardinal Pell awaits verdict after prosecutor stumbles in appeal hearing

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

June 7, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – The two-day hearing in Cardinal George Pell’s appeal before the Victorian Court of Appeal against his conviction for alleged child sex abuse in Melbourne, Australia, in the 1990s ended Thursday with a positive impression for the defense.

According to press reports, prosecutor Christopher Boyce “bumbled and stumbled” through his presentation on Thursday afternoon while Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, court president Justice Chris Maxwell and Justice Mark Weinberg made several remarks that appeared favorable to the Cardinal’s version.

The judges reserved their decision and Cardinal Pell returned to prison, where he will celebrate his 78th birthday in 23-hours-per-day solitary confinement. He has already spent three months of his six-year sentence in a maximum-security prison and will not be eligible for parole before having completed three years and eight months.

If his appeal is retained, he would be set free immediately, unless the judges ordered a retrial. If he is again found guilty, he could go before the High Court, which in contrast to the appeals court is known to be wary of overturning popular jury verdicts.

The appeals court decision is expected to be delivered within the next two weeks, although no date has been given.

Photos were circulated in the world media showing Cardinal Pell, the former head of Pope Francis’ council of advisers, being led handcuffed into the court. The most aggressive headlines called him a “convicted pedophile,” and the liberal media insisted that the case for the prosecution was convincingly set out on Thursday.

Pell himself has never ceased to proclaim his innocence; his defense was based on the fact that the verdict was unreasonable because the only surviving witness in the case was not reliable, and because there were two great irregularities in his trial, making the jury’s verdict of guilt “unsafe.”

The Cardinal’s defense was presented Wednesday by a renewed legal team led by Sydney-based Bret Walker, who argued that the jury was badly mistaken in finding Cardinal Pell guilty and that there are 13 obstacles to his conviction that should have been taken into account.

Speaking to judges who during the last weeks have been going deep into the documents in the case and who also went to visit the cathedral where the alleged abuse took place, Walker underscored all the “impossibilities” that make the victim’s witness unworthy of belief.

One of his main arguments was that Cardinal Pell, at the time one of the assaults are said to have taken place, was meeting parishioners at the western door of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne at a distance from the sacristy that 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.

Walker added that the surviving choirboy was a liar and a fantasist.

During Pell’s first interrogation that was taped on video and broadcast, he had already told the police that if the alleged crimes took place after Mass on a big feast day in the sacristy (where the doors were always open and that was always very busy after High Masses) in the times and places named by the witness, there was no way he could have committed them. He even asked the police to repeat all the details, showing himself certain and relieved that there could be no case against him.

Besides, there were no other witnesses at all of the alleged abuse. The second choirboy in the case later died of an overdose. But he denied any abuse had taken place.

There were no witnesses of a second incident in which Cardinal Pell has been found guilty of groping the first choirboy even though the complainant said it happened in the midst of a 50-person choir, in a corridor crowded with other choirboys and in the presence of at least one other priest.

Many other contradictions and discrepancies abound. The main victim has repeatedly modified his testimony, recording different times and details in successive statements.

On Thursday, Boyce appeared shaken by the judges’ questions and made matters even worse for himself by almost immediately accidentally naming the surviving accuser, whose name should not have been revealed because he was a minor at the time.

Boyce called the accuser’s evidence “compelling” because of his willingness to “concede” some “things he got wrong,” also explaining somewhat incoherently that if the accusation had been so improbable, why would the accuser have made it up? “You answer your own question,” dryly responded Justice Maxwell.

In fact, Boyce’s arguments for Pell’s guilt appeared to rely on the fact that the former choirboy accurately described the sacristy where the first assaults were alleged to have taken place.

On the other hand, Boyce was at pains to explain how the prelate could have removed his ankle-length alb, a tunic with no opening tied in place with a cincture, as well as a chasuble, and held up his vestments while at the same time having both his hands around the boy’s head – a question put to him by Justice Weinberg.

Journalists at the hearing also say that when Pell’s master of ceremonies, Monsignor Charles Portelli, was asked to explain how a fully vested priest goes to the toilet, he answered: “You don’t.”

Boyce generally made a bad impression, even admitting that “rehearsing the platitudes may not be all that helpful.” He has already been accused by some of so badly bungling the case that the prosecution will lose.

The judges did not hesitate to point out his contradictions. For instance, they reduced him to silence when pointing out that contrary to what he claimed, the choirboy’s evidence has not been compelling since in the first trial the jury had found it impossible to agree unanimously on Cardinal Pell’s guilt, and the whole thing had to be done over again with a new jury.

They also underscored some weaknesses of the lawyer for Cardinal Pell’s line of defense concerning the “impossibility” of the alleged assaults. Weinberg said that may have misled the jury into answering the wrong question: whether the sexual abuse was “possible.” That was not the point, he insisted. The jury should have come to their decision taking into account that the prosecutors needed to prove their case “beyond reasonable doubt” and not only that the events were “entirely possible” as the prosecution had argued.

According to the Financial Review, the same judge said, “I have said previously in judgments that juries almost always get it right, but the word is almost.” Later, he added that “there were plenty of cases where the witness had seen truthful and believable but the jury verdict was still ruled unsafe,” according to that media.

Other sources remarked that Cardinal Pell brightened during the two-day hearing,  taking many notes and “chuckling” at some of the judges’ humorous remarks.

LifeSite has previously reported that critics of Pell’s trial have suggested that the evidence in the case may have been lifted out of a case reported by Rolling Stone magazine that presents striking similarities to his accuser’s allegations.

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