Pell appeals conviction but faces new legal threat

After his sensational conviction of historic child sex abuse claims last month, Cardinal George Pell’s appeal is currently being heard. But even if Pell is freed by the three appeal judges, his legal battles are far from over. New claims that he failed to act in the case of another convicted child molester priest could see Pell on trial again in 2020.

Meanwhile, Pell might have reason for some hope.

Two of the three judges deciding George Pell’s fate have described parts of his victim’s account as “highly” or “wildly improbable” as they tested the strength of his evidence in the appeal court.

The Appeal Court judges in Melbourne who will now decide Pell’s fate, challenged the victim’s evidence, ­describing the then archbishop of Melbourne’s opportunistic rape of a 13-year-old choirboy in a ­cathedral sacristy after mass as “highly improbable” and a second sexual assault on the boy when he was part of a procession as “somewhat improbable”.


For the first time in two years, Pell yesterday afforded himself a series of restrained courtroom smiles as the three judges tried to determine whether the County Court evidence actually backed up the convictions.

As has been widely reported, there are plenty of reasons to question whether Pell could have molested two choirboys in the priests’ sacristy after mass […] But there was also a sense that the court is examining very deeply the core issue surrounding this case.

That is, is it believable that a newly appointed archbishop struck so brutally for five to six minutes in the sacristy, with the door open after mass and maybe scores of people still milling through the cathedral?

As [the prosecutor] conceded, if it is indeed true that Pell spent 10 minutes on the steps of the cathedral after Solemn Mass late in 1996, then it would have been difficult for the assaults to have occurred.

But the prosecution is not accepting this is the case, bringing into question the evidence of Monsignor Charles Portelli, who is crucial to the outcome of the appeal […] the question is whether or not Portelli was by Pell’s side — as is the ancient church custom for an archbishop — or whether Portelli wasn’t around for long enough to enable Pell to offend for five to six minutes.


The possible new case stems from last year’s child sex abuse royal commission.

Cardinal George Pell could be on trial again next year, this time on civil claims that he knew former Christian Brother Ted Bales was sexually abusing children and did nothing to protect potential victims.

In fact, Pell did “do something” about it, but the question seems to be whether he did enough.

The commission heard Pell raised the allegations with the chaplain of Ballarat’s St Patrick’s College Father Brendan Davey who told him the Christian Brothers were dealing with it.

“With the experience of 40 years later, certainly I would agree that I should have done more,” Pell told the commission from Rome in 2016.


Hindsight is always 20/20.