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Cardinal George PellPatrick Craine / LifeSiteNews

CANBERRA, Australia, November 13, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) ― Australia’s High Court will hear Cardinal George Pell’s last appeal against his convictions for historic child sex offenses. 

Pell, 78, has a last chance to convince a court of his innocence now that Australia’s high court has agreed to hear his case in a special “full court sitting” of seven judges.  

A date for the appeal hearing has not yet been set, but it is expected to be held in March or April of 2020. 

The permission to appeal was granted at 9:34 this morning by Justice Michelle Gordon of the Canberra High Court of Australia.

“In this application, Justice Edelman and I order that the application for special leave to appeal to this Court from the judgment and orders of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria given and made on 21 August 2019 be referred to a Full Court of this Court for argument as on an appeal. The parties will be made aware of the directions necessary for undertaking that hearing,” she wrote in the official court document. 

Archbishop Anthony Fisher, OP of Sydney, Pell’s successor to the archdiocese, released a statement saying that he welcomes today’s decision.

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

“Many questions remain, and it is appropriate that these will be examined by our highest court. For the sake of all involved in this case, I hope that the appeal will be heard as soon as possible,” he continued. 

“The Church will continue to offer pastoral support to the Cardinal while he remains in prison awaiting the hearing of this appeal, and for all others affected by today’s outcome.”

A spokeswoman for Cardinal Pell declined to give a comment, saying that he and his team are unable to comment because the matter is now before the courts. 

Pell’s lawyers applied for the “special leave” to appeal a previous upholding of his conviction on September 17, 2019. Because of the high profile of his case, it was expected, although not guaranteed that the High Court would grant him a hearing.  

On December 11, 2018, Pell was found guilty of two counts of child sex assault by a jury after only four days of deliberation. A second planned trial was dropped in February 2019 due to a lack of evidence and because one of Pell’s principal accusers had died. In March 2019, Justice Peter Kidd sentenced Pell to six years in prison, with no chance of parole for three years and eight months. 

Pell has always maintained that he is innocent of all accusations of child sexual abuse, and after his conviction his legal team applied for a hearing with the Court of Appeal in Melbourne. This took place in early June, and it was reported that Pell’s defense team had made a positive impression on the three judges. However, on August 20, the Court of Appeal upheld the conviction. It was a split decision, however, as Justice Mark Weinberg said he could not in good conscience refrain from dissenting.

Pell’s convictions for child sex assault have divided Australian opinion and brought both the police and the judiciary of the state of Victoria under international scrutiny. The cardinal’s supporters are shocked that the Victoria police had canvassed for complaints against Pell in what has been termed a “Get Pell” campaign

The cardinal’s supporters are also astonished that Pell was convicted solely on the evidence of one complainant, especially as several other witnesses all testified that the scenario described by Pell’s accuser ― that the then-new Archbishop of Melbourne had abused two boys in a cathedral sacristy immediately after Mass ― was impossible. An Australian journalist has noted that the complainant’s story was suspiciously similar to claims that led to the wrongful conviction of an American priest, published in Rolling Stone magazine.     

When Pell was arrested on multiple charges of sexual assault, half of which were soon dropped, he was the Holy See’s Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy and thus the third highest ranking figure in the Catholic Church. One of Pell’s colleagues, the Vatican Bank’s ousted Auditor General Libero Milone, has suggested that the cardinal’s arrest was connected to his work tackling corruption in the Vatican’s finances.

Pell currently resides in Melbourne assessment prison, where he is serving a six-year prison sentence. He will be eligible for parole in 2022.