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Father hopes for justice as Cardinal Pell waits on appeal verdict

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The father of one of the victims of jailed Australian Cardinal George Pell said Monday he hoped “justice would prevail” as a court prepared to rule on an appeal against his conviction of child sex abuse crimes.

Pell, the former Vatican number three, is appealing against his conviction on five counts of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in the 1990s, with a court due to hand down its decision on Wednesday.

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The case against the 78-year-old relied solely on the testimony of Pell’s surviving victim, as the other — who never spoke of the abuse — died of a drug overdose in 2014. Neither man can be identified for legal reasons.

Lawyer Lisa Flynn, who represents the dead man’s father, said he was anxious about the judgment, as were victims of child sexual abuse worldwide.

She told AFP they were waiting with “bated breath” ahead of “one of the most significant legal decisions in recent history”.

“He just wants closure so he can try to get on with his life and stop thinking about it every single day,” she said of her client.

“He has expressed that he would like to see justice prevail and George Pell kept behind bars where he cannot prey on more unsuspecting children.”

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Pell was convicted in December of sexually abusing the two boys in 1996 and 1997 at St Patrick’s Cathedral shortly after he was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne.

The prosecution called the surviving victim “a witness of truth” and defended the jury verdict as “unimpeachable”.

A three-judge panel deliberating since a two-day appeal hearing in early June can either dismiss the appeal, order a retrial or quash his conviction.

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Lawyers for Pell, the most senior Catholic church figure to be convicted of child sex abuse, branded the verdict “a disturbing failure of our jury system”.

They raised 13 objections to his convictions including that it was “physically impossible” for the cleric to have committed the crimes in a crowded cathedral.

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If the judges accept these arguments and rule in Pell’s favour, he could walk free immediately.

Alternatively, Victorian Bar Association president Matt Collins said, if the judges agreed with Pell’s lawyers that procedural irregularities affected the trial, they could order it held again.

“It doesn’t necessarily follow that there would be a retrial for a number of reasons: the prosecution would have to determine whether to pursue a retrial, and there could be scope for argument about whether Cardinal Pell could have a fair retrial given the publicity that attended the verdict in the last trial,” he told AFP.

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Pell has already faced two juries — his first trial in 2018 ended in a hung jury — with the second finding him guilty in December.

Both trials were hidden from the public until a comprehensive gag order was lifted in February after a batch of other charges against Pell were dropped.

The case has subsequently attracted a barrage of international media coverage amid intense interest in the downfall of a priest who once elected popes, controlled the Vatican’s vast finances, and even created a redress scheme to compensate victims of clerical abuse in Victoria.

If the judges dismiss Pell’s appeal he would be required to continue his six-year sentence, although Collins said his legal team would likely try to appeal to the High Court.

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