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High Court to rule on Cardinal George Pell’s appeal tomorrow

Announcement near: The court ruling will be announced amid COVID-19 restrictions, in a near-empty courtroom in Brisbane, and the news will be released on Twitter at 10am.

THE High Court will rule tomorrow whether Cardinal George Pell was wrongly jailed after being convicted on five counts of child sexual abuse.

Among the possibilities are that 78-year-old Cardinal Pell could be released after spending just over 400 days behind bars.

He was found guilty by a jury in late 2018.

The court ruling will be announced amid COVID-19 restrictions, in a near-empty courtroom in Brisbane, and the news will be released on Twitter at 10am.

The High Court could quash the guilty verdict against Cardinal Pell, uphold it, or send the case back to the Victorian Court of Appeal that upheld the conviction last year.

Cardinal Pell is serving six years in prison for molesting two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 and 1997, soon after he became Archbishop of Melbourne.

One of the boys gave evidence against Cardinal Pell, while the second died in 2014, without disclosing any abuse.

Cardinal Pell has always maintained his innocence.

However when Cardinal Pell’s lawyers took his case to the Victorian Court of Appeal in 2019, two of the three judges rejected that there was “reasonable doubt” that he could have carried out the abuse, even though it was said to have occurred inside a busy cathedral straight after Mass.

Since then, while Cardinal Pell remained inside the maximum-security Barwon Prison near Geelong, southwest of Melbourne, his lawyers took his case to the High Court of Australia. 

Appeals specialist Bret Walker SC told a seven-judge panel that key parts of the evidence presented at the 2018 trial must have given the jurors reasonable doubt.

At trial, evidence was given by more than 20 prosecution witnesses including priests, altar servers and former choirboys. 

Their testimony supported Cardinal Pell’s practice, when Archbishop of Melbourne in December 1996, of standing on the cathedral steps after Sunday Mass to greet parishioners and the “hive of activity” that surrounded the priests’ sacristy at the time the abuse is said to have occurred.

Monsignor Charles Portelli and sacristan Max Potter were key witnesses in supporting the defence case that Cardinal Pell could not have offended.

However, arguing in front of High Court judges, Victoria’s top prosecutor, Kerri Judd QC, said the appeal court had done what the jury had done, and considered all the evidence in context.She said Monsignor Portelli and Mr Potter had given evidence that it was Cardinal Pell’s practice to be on the cathedral steps, but practices aren’t always followed, and this was supported by the testimony of several choirboys.

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