George Pell’s legal team is expected to appeal to the High Court to have his child sex convictions overturned, in what would be his last chance to avoid jail time until 2022.
An announcement on the appeal is expected shortly after the Victorian Court of Appeal yesterday rejected the disgraced Cardinal’s bid for freedom, The Australian reports.
This comes as the Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli, said he believed the victim in the Pell case had been abused, but did not believe Pell was the perpetrator.
On Wednesday, the Victorian Supreme Court dismissed Pell’s appeal against five historic sexual abuse convictions earlier today by a two-to-one majority.
The Court of Appeal judges ruled he did in fact abuse two 13-year-old boys at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.
The ruling ensured he would remain behind bars serving his six-year prison term. Pell will be eligible for parole three years and eight months into the sentence.
The Vatican has said it will let Pell exhaust all legal avenues of appeal against his abuse convictions before taking up his case in its own canon law investigation.
A day after the ruling, Archbishop Comensoli said he believed Pell was innocent.
“I believe in what he said to me on many occasions, that he’s innocent, and I continue to be really quite shocked with how things have developed,” the Archbishop told radio station 3AW.
He noted he believed the victim, known only as “J”, but said he doubts Pell was the perpetrator. “Then there’s this question of who’s actually been the abuser in this case.”
Following Wednesday’s appeal, the Vatican released a statement reiterating its “respect for the Australian judicial system”, but added Pell had always maintained his innocence and had the right to appeal to the High Court.
“At this time, together with the Church in Australia, the Holy See confirms its closeness to the victims of sexual abuse and its commitment to pursue, through the competent ecclesiastical authorities, those members of the clergy who commit such abuse,” it said.
Pell is going to be moved out of central Melbourne to a remote country prison in Ararat, 205km northwest of the Melbourne CBD, where he will be surrounded by Victoria’s worst sex offenders.
Pell will call the Hopkins Correctional Facility home for the remainder of his six-year sentence provided he doesn’t take his conviction to the High Court of Australia to have it quashed.
The move will see him imprisoned with his former housemate and convicted paedophile Gerard Ridsdale, as well as a number of other disgraced members of the cloth.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, urged the Australian community to maintain “calm and civility” in the wake of the rejected appeal.
“I know that there are many in the Catholic community and beyond who will find it difficult to come to terms with this judgment, especially those who know the Cardinal and will struggle to reconcile this outcome with the man they know,” he said.
On radio 3AW Melbourne Archbishop Comensoli said he respectfully received the court’s decision and extended his thoughts and prayers to “the man who brought this matter before the courts”.
“I humbly acknowledge it has been a challenging time for him, and I stand ready to offer pastoral and spiritual help, should he seek it,” he said.
He added he would also ensure Pell was provided with spiritual support while serving out the rest of his sentence in prison.
The president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Mark Coleridge, said he too accepted the decision.