Pell was the Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996–2001 and Archbishop of Sydney from 2001–2014. He was also the Catholic Church's first appointment as Prefect in the Secretariat for the Economy reporting directly to the Pope in 2014.

By Ian Horswill


Posted on August 21, 2019

The Catholic Church’s most senior official to be convicted of child sexual abuse, Cardinal George Pell, has lost an appeal to have his conviction and sentence quashed.

Victoria’s Supreme Court Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, President of the Court of Appeal Justice Chris Maxwell and Justice Mark Weinberg dismissed his appeal against sentence and ordered 78-year-old Pell to “return to prison”.

Read the Victorian Supreme Court’s decision (300 pages)

A statement from Pell was released by the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney after the court’s decision.

“Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision today. However his legal team will thoroughly examine the judgement in order to determine a special leave application to the High Court,” the statement read.

“While noting the 2-1 split decision, Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence.

“We thank his many supporters.”

Pell’s victim issued a statement through his lawyer Dr Vivian Waller.

“I am relieved at the decision of the Court of Appeal. 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 justice machine rolls on with all its processes and punditry, almost forgetting about the people at the heart of the matter.

“Despite this, I appreciate that the criminal process afforded Pell every opportunity to challenge the charges and to be heard. I am glad he had the best legal representation money can buy. There are a lot of checks and balances in the criminal justice system and the appeal process is one of them.

“I just hope that it is all over now.”

Pell will continue to serve his sentence of six years’ imprisonment.

He will remain eligible to apply for parole after he has served three years and eight months of the sentence.

Justice Ferguson said she and Justice Maxwell believed the complainant was a compelling witness, not a fantasist.

“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 favourable to the prosecution.”

She said the judges had watched the evidence, including some parts a number of times.

They also visited the cathedral and examined the robes, which Pell’s defence team had argued were too heavy to be pulled aside so he could expose himself, as had been alleged.

“We found the robes were capable of being manoeuvred in a way that could be described as moved or pulled aside,” she said.

In March he was sentenced to six years in prison, after a jury in December last year found him guilty of five offences over the rape of one 13-year-old choirboy and sexual assault of another at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996.

Victim advocate Chrissie Foster told the ABC outside court it was a “joyous moment” when the decision was delivered.

“I’m so glad that it was not overturned after everything,” she said.

Chrissie Foster’s daughters Emma and Katie were raped by Melbourne priest Kevin O’Donnell while they were at primary school in the 1980s.

“It sends a message that they will be believed,” she said about other victims of institutional abuse.

Pell was the Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996–2001 and Archbishop of Sydney from 2001–2014. He was also the Catholic Church’s first appointment as Prefect in the Secretariat for the Economy reporting directly to the Pope in 2014.

In February, the Catholic Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith initiated its own investigation of the charges against Pell, which could lead to Pell being defrocked. His five-year term as Prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy concluded that same month.