Making the deadline by just one day, lawyers for George Pell have filed an application for ‘special leave’ (permission) to appeal to the High Court of Australia, seeking to persuade the court there are legal grounds to hear the appeal against their client’s child sexual assault convictions.
The Court’s decision will be made in one of two ways – either on the submitted application alone or by setting the matter down for a hearing. In the latter case, Mr Pell’s lawyers will need to attend the High Court to make submissions.
If leave is ultimately allowed, Mr Pell will be required to lodge a formal appeal.
What the High Court will decide
The High Court does not make leave decisions lightly. It will need to determine whether the proceedings involve a question of legal principle of public importance, or whether there is a need to resolve differences of opinion between courts.
The court also considers the earlier judgements in the case as well as whether the appeal has reasonable prospects of success.
If leave is refused, the matter ends there and then. If leave is allowed, it is likely the actual appeal hearing will take place some time next year.
The High Court has the power to grant a new trial, or to reverse or modify prior judgments.
It can even quash convictions altogether, without ordering another trial, in which case Mr Pell would effectively be set free.
Six years behind bars
George Pell was found guilty in December last year of five sexual offences, including one count of sexually penetrating a child under 16 years and four of committing an indecent act with or in the presence of a Child under 16 years. The acts were against two young boys in at St Patrick’s Cathedral, East Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.
He was sentenced to six years in prison by Victorian County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd in March this year, who described the offences as ‘brazen, forcible and breathtakingly arrogant’.
The judge added that M Pell must have been aware of the added layer of degradation and humiliation, knowing that each of the boys had witnessed the abuse of the other.”
He also remarked that while Mr Pell has maintained his innocence, he has shown no remorse, contrition or compassion towards the victims.
Civil action by victims
Mr Pell’s victim and the deceased victim’s family have indicated they intend to commence civil proceedings, regardless of the outcome.
Although Pope Francis has not commented on the case, many have called on the Catholic Church to defrock Pell, which is the most severe penalty available to the institution – with the exception of ex-communication.
Many are angered by the fact Pell remains a Cardinal, despite being convicted of serious sexual offences.
What will the Catholic Church do?
The Pell case is highly significant for the Catholic church globally because Pell is the highest ranking church official to be found guilty of child sex offences.
Around the world in the past few years, thousands of people, including nuns have opened up about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of Catholic Priests and the culture of ‘cover up’ within the church.
While the Vatican claims to have started its own investigation into the Pell case, its continued ‘official silence’ and inaction has divided followers and frustrated victims.
It has also raised concerns about the stated commitment of the Church to treating the issue of child sexual abuse seriously.