Australian Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic cleric convicted of child sexual abuse charges, will learn the fate of his final appeal to the country’s High Court on April 7.
The decision will be announced less than a month after a two-day hearing by the seven-judge court, led by Chief Justice Susan Kiefel, in the Australian capital, Canberra.
The court has three relatively clear options: turn down the appeal; uphold the appeal and set Cardinal Pell free; or send the case back to the Victorian Court of Appeals. which upheld a December 2018 unanimous conviction by a 12-person jury in the state’s County Court. The cardinal was convicted of the 1996 sexual assault of two choirboys.
If the appeal is denied, Cardinal Pell will stay in near-solitary confinement for at least 31 months, when he could be released after the no-parole period of his six-year prison term.
It is a quick decision historically for the High Court of Australia, which has traditionally taken many months to decide cases. But Australian lawyers who spoke to Catholic News Service on the condition of anonymity said that under Kiefel, the court had been quicker to make decisions.
“It is not unusual for the High Court to come to a decision in a month these days,” the lawyer said.
The announcement of the decision date came in the same week that another allegation against Cardinal Pell concerning child sexual abuse resurfaced in a series on abuse in the Catholic Church aired on the Australian Broadcasting Corp., the public broadcaster.
Prosecutors dropped one set of potential charges against the cardinal and are said to have halted other investigations once he was convicted, but they have the option of restarting the cases. The cardinal also could face civil suits, lawyers for complainants have told Australian media.
An inquiry by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has been on hold while Australia’s legal system runs its course.
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