SYDNEY, Australia (AFP) — The ruling in Australian Cardinal George Pell’s appeal against his conviction on historical child sex abuse charges will be handed down on August 21, court officials announced Thursday.
Pell, 78, the former Vatican number three, was sentenced in March to six years in prison after being convicted of sexually assaulting two choirboys in the 1990s.
A three-judge panel of Victoria state’s Supreme Court has been deliberating his case since hearing his appeal over two days in early June.
The judges can decide to reject the appeal, order a retrial or acquit Pell, the Catholic Church’s most senior convicted child molester.
Pell was convicted of sexually abusing the two choirboys in 1996 and 1997 after Sunday Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral when he was Archbishop of Melbourne.
His lawyers raised 13 objections to his conviction on five counts of sexual abuse, arguing it was “physically impossible” for the cleric to have committed the crimes in a crowded cathedral.
They cast doubt on everything from the timing of the incident following Sunday services to whether he would have been able to move his cumbersome archbishop’s robes enough to commit the assaults.
The appeal maintains that the case against Pell was unreasonably dependent on the testimony of a single victim –- the other died in 2014 — and fell short of proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Prosecutors insisted the jury verdict against the one-time top Vatican official was “unimpeachable”.
Whichever side loses the appeal is expected to take their case to Australia’s High Court — the country’s final court of appeal.
Since his conviction, Pell has been removed as the Vatican finance chief and lost his place in the so-called C9 Council of Cardinals that is effectively the pope’s cabinet and inner circle of advisers.
The Vatican has opened its own probe into Pell’s actions. If his conviction is upheld, it could lead to his expulsion from the priesthood.
© Agence France-Presse