Cardinal Pell to seek freedom while he fights conviction for child sex abuse

Lawyers for disgraced Cardinal George Pell are expected to argue Wednesday that the 77-year-old should remain free while he appeals his conviction for child sex abuse.

The close adviser to Pope Francis and former Vatican treasurer was found guilty in December of five charges of indecent acts and sexual penetration of a child, though the guilty verdict was suppressed until this week.

Chief Judge Peter Kidd has already indicated Pell will serve prison time for indecently assaulting two choirboys at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in the late 1990s.

A jury found him guilty based on the testimony on one boy, now a man in his 30s, who gave evidence to a closed court that the cardinal, then Archbishop of Melbourne, forced him into oral sex in the priest’s sacristy after mass one Sunday.

The second victim died of a drug overdose after a troubled life. His father, through the family’s lawyer Lisa Flynn, has said was due to his abuse at a young age by someone in a position of trust.

Pell arrived at Victoria County Court on Wednesday morning for what could be the last time before being taken into custody.

He was required to attend the pre-sentencing hearing in order to provide an opportunity for the crown prosecutor and Pell’s defense team to put forward arguments for an appropriate sentence.

His legal team will be back in the Court of Appeal at 2:30pm local time for a bail hearing, which if successful could secure Pell’s freedom, at least for now. If it fails, he could spend his first night behind bars.

The Vatican has approached Pell’s conviction with caution, saying it was “painful news” but it would await for the outcome of the appeal process, noting the cardinal had “reiterated his innocence.”

It said the Pope had confirmed that precautionary measures imposed when Pell returned to Australia would remain for now, including a ban of “exercising public ministry and from having any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors.”

On Tuesday, the Vatican announced that Pell would no longer hold the role of treasurer. Pell’s term expired last Sunday, on February 24, but the post was considered still open until an Vatican communication saying otherwise.

‘Care, solidarity and support’

Survivors of child abuse were elated with Pell’s conviction and relieved that the testimony of one boy had been believed by a jury of 12 people.

However, many survivors told support groups that the conviction of such a high profile figure in the church had shown to then that the abuse scandal was more insidious than they feared.

The reaction in Pell’s hometown of Ballarat northwest of the Victorian capital Melbourne was swift.

St. Patrick’s College, where Pell attended school in the 1950s, removed Pell’s name from a building in the school. The school has also drawn a black line through his name on the honor board that lists the names of past students who entered the priesthood.

“The jury’s verdict demonstrates that Cardinal Pell’s behaviors have not met the standards we expect of those we honor as role models for the young men we educate,” school principal John Crowley said in a statement. “The College also remains ever mindful of the victims and survivors who require our ongoing care, solidarity and support.”

On Tuesday night, Ribbons were tied to the fence of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne where the attack took place. Protesters placed tape with the words “crime scene” across the gates.

Ribbons have been used as part of the “Loud Fence” campaign as a mark of respect for survivors of child sex abuse, and draw attention to calls to ensure it can never happen again.

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