SYDNEY – The victim who testified against Cardinal George Pell said he was “relieved” after an Australian court on Wednesday upheld the six-year prison sentence for child sexual abuse handed down against the Vatican’s former treasurer and number three.
“I am relieved at the decision of the Court of Appeal,” the victim said in a statement through his lawyer Vivian Waller.
Pell, 78, was convicted in Dec. 2018 after a jury found him guilty on five counts of child sexual abuse against two choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne between 1996-97. The verdict was not reported until February due to a suppression order.
Supreme Court of Victoria Chief Justice Anne Ferguson said at the reading of the lengthy ruling Wednesday that “by majority two-to-one, the court of appeal has dismissed Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against his conviction for the commission of sexual offenses.”
She confirmed that the cardinal will continue his six-year prison sentence and must serve a minimum jail term of three years and eight months.
“It is four years since I reported to the police. The criminal process has been stressful. The journey has taken me to places that, in my darkest moments, I feared I could not return from,” the victim said.
“Despite this, I appreciate that the criminal process afforded Pell every opportunity to challenge the charges and to be heard… There are a lot of checks and balances in the criminal justice system and the appeal process is one of them,” he said. “I just hope that it is all over now.”
The victim dismissed detractors who have said he went to the police for personal gain.
“I have risked my privacy, my health, my wellbeing, my family. I have not instructed any solicitor in relation to a claim for compensation. This is not about money and never has been,” he said, while acknowledging the other choirboy who died of a drug overdose.
Ferguson and Court of Appeal President Chris Maxwell rejected Pell’s main argument that the jury could not have found him guilty beyond all reasonable doubt based solely on the testimony of the surviving victim.
“The prosecution case was that (the complainant) was a witness of truth, on the basis of whose evidence the jury could be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the events he described had occurred,” the magistrate said.
Ferguson said she and Maxwell “accepted the prosecution’s submission that the complainant was a very compelling witness, was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of the truth.”
“Throughout his evidence, the complainant came across as someone who was telling the truth,” she said.
“He did not seek to embellish his evidence or tailor it in a manner favorable to the prosecution. As might have been expected, there were some things which he could remember and many things which he could not. And his explanations of why that was so had the ring of truth.”
The other two arguments of Pell’s defense, which related to procedural issues and would have opened the door to a new judicial process, were also dismissed.
The cardinal was “obviously disappointed” and his legal team “will thoroughly examine the judgment in order to determine a special leave application to the High Court,” Pell’s spokesperson said in a statement, adding that he “maintains his innocence.”
“Whether Cardinal Pell will be released on parole will be a matter for the Adult Parole Board,” Ferguson said.
Outside the court, a group of survivors and parents of victims of sexual abuse welcomed the sentence.
Chrissie Foster, whose two daughters were sexually abused by members of the Catholic Church in the 1980s, told Australian national broadcaster ABC it was “a joyous moment.”
The trial against Pell began after one of the victims, identified as “J,” accused the cardinal in 2014, shortly after the other minor, identified as “R,” died of a drug overdose.