MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell appeared in an Australian court on Wednesday for an appeal hearing against his convictions for sexually abusing two choir boys in the 1990s. Pell wore a black suit with a clerical collar in his first public appearance since March, shortly after becoming the most senior Catholic worldwide to be convicted for child sex offences.
The 77-year-old was jailed for six years after he was found guilty on five charges of abusing two 13-year-old boys at St Patrick’s Cathedral while he was archbishop of Melbourne more than 20 years ago.
The appeal is scheduled to be held over two days in a Melbourne court, although a ruling may not be delivered for several weeks. Pell could be released or face a retrial if the court rules in his favour.
The court was packed with lawyers, journalists and the general public on Wednesday while protesters outside the building carried placards denouncing the Catholic Church.
Pell’s original trial judge in March said that because of his age, the former Vatican treasurer could die in jail.
His fate now rests in the hands of three judges presiding over the appeal process.
In his remarks, Pell’s barrister Bret Walker said his client could not have been in the priests’ sacristy at the time of the events. He said the victim who testified at the trial gave differing accounts about the timing of the abuse, which should have raised a reasonable doubt.
Pell’s lawyers are appealing against his conviction on three grounds: the jury verdicts were “unreasonable” based on the evidence, the judge erred by blocking the defence from showing a video graphic in its closing argument, and there was a “fundamental irregularity” as Pell did not make his plea in the presence of the jury panel.
While awaiting the outcome of his appeal, Pell remains a cardinal and could only be dismissed from the priesthood if the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith found him guilty following a separate canonical trial or a shortened procedure called an “administrative process”.
Pell was chosen in 2014 to oversee the Vatican’s vast finances, but no longer has any position in the Vatican.
Reporting by Sonali Paul in MELBOURNE and Colin Packham in SYDNEY; Writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Paul Tait and Darren Schuettler
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