Cardinal Pell’s plans to appeal his conviction for rape have been thrown into confusion by an extraordinary statement from his own lawyer which describes the assault of which the cardinal was found guilty as a “plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating”.
In the course of arguing that Pell did not deserve to be held in custody, Robert Richter QC gave the impression that he was conceding that Pell was guilty.
This was apparently not his intention: Richter was trying to argue that if Pell had committed the offence, which the cardinal strongly denies, then it was a lesser crime than other assaults against children.
The lawyer’s line of approach has thrown Pell’s supporters into despair. “I understand what Richter was trying to do. But he’s conceded the war to lose a battle,” said one source.
The latest developments are an extra disaster for Cardinal Pell, who was found guilty in December of five counts of sexual abuse of two 13-year-old boys.
Many commentators were astonished by the verdict, given the apparent holes and inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case. The defence thought it had demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that Pell could not possibly have committed those offenses. A previous jury had failed to reach a unanimous verdict, reportedly finding 10-2 in Pell’s favour.
One possible explanation for Richter’s bizarrely worded statement – which has caused widespread offence – is that he was trying to create grounds for appeal based on a future disproportionate sentence.
Whatever his reasons, his description of a horrific attack on a minor (which Richter was not conceding actually happened) will do nothing to persuade the Australian public of Pell’s innocence. The situation is therefore a nightmare for the Catholic Church. The former head of the Vatican’s finances has been found guilty of repugnant crimes against two children. Those many Catholics who believe that Pell is himself the victim of a terrible injustice will now find it much harder to argue their case.