CANBERRA, Australia — Cardinal George Pell’s lawyers argued in his appeal that there were more than a dozen “solid obstacles” that should have prevented a jury from finding him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of molesting two choirboys.
A jury convicted Pell of molesting the 13-year-old friends in a priests’ changing room known as a sacristy at the rear of a cathedral in the Australian city of Melbourne several minutes after a Mass more than 20 years ago. He was also convicted of squeezing one of the boy’s genitals and shoving him against a corridor wall after a Mass weeks later. One of the victims died in 2014, a year before the surviving choirboy made a complaint to police.
A look at some of the obstacles that Pell’s lawyers noted in the appeal, which a court will decide Wednesday:
Pell could not have been alone in the sacristy
Witnesses said Pell greeted worshippers on the cathedral’s front steps for more than 10 minutes after the Mass where he was accused of molesting the boys in the sacristy. Prosecutors disagreed, saying Pell didn’t always spend time at the front of the cathedral after Masses.
Pell could not have been vested and alone in the sacristy
Centuries-old church law dictates that bishops must never be left alone while vested. Pell would only have gone to the sacristy to disrobe, and that was always done with the help of at least one other cleric. Prosecutors disagreed, saying Monsignor Charles Portelli was the only witness who testified to have been with Pell at the relevant Masses, but that there were occasions when Portelli did not accompany Pell to the sacristy.
Choirboys’ abuse in sacristy could not go undetected
A cathedral official unlocked the sacristy five minutes after Mass ended, when up to eight altar servers began returning sacred vessels and holy books from the altar area. Priests also returned to disrobe. Pell’s alleged abuse in the sacristy took five or six minutes and would have been seen and heard, his lawyers say.
The prosecution disagreed, saying the complainant did not accept that the boys’ crying and calling out during the abuse would have been heard from the corridor or that the abuse would have been seen from the corridor through an open door. The complainant accurately described the layout of the sacristy, a room he testified he had only ever been in on the day he was abused. The prosecution also said there were times when the sacristy was left unlocked and empty.
Sex acts attributed to Pell were physically impossible
The cumbersome archbishop robes did not open at the front, so Pell could not “part” them to expose himself, as the complainant testified. Pell needed help to robe and disrobe. A witness said archbishops didn’t use the toilet while dressed in their regalia. The prosecution argued that the robes were not a straitjacket and invited the three appeals court judges to try on Pell’s personally tailored robes.
Someone would have seen Pell molest choirboy in corridor
No one reported seeing Pell molest the complainant as the archbishop passed more than 50 choristers in a cathedral corridor after Mass. The defense said Pell would have been on the front steps talking to worshippers or behind the choir as they filed out after Mass.
The prosecution said the complainant agreed people were in the corridor when the assault happened but did not agree that it happened in anyone’s view.
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