The appeal is expected to be heard by a panel of Australia’s most senior judges sometime after March next year.
A former close adviser to Pope Francis, Pell was found guilty in a unanimous jury verdict last December of five charges of assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys in the mid-1990s.
He is the most senior Vatican official to be convicted of child sex abuse.
The 78-year-old cardinal has already spent several months in custody at the Melbourne Assessment Prison, as his legal team fights to overturn the conviction. He will remain in prison while his legal team compiles their High Court submission.
Lower court appeal failed
Earlier this year, they took his case to the Victorian Court of Appeal, arguing in part that the jury couldn’t have found Pell guilty beyond reasonable doubt based on the evidence. The evidence largely rested on the testimony of one of the two choirboys, now a man aged in his 30s. Neither man can be identified due to an Australian law protecting victims of child sex abuse.
In their ruling, Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Justice Chris Maxwell found that the choirboy was “clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth.” The dissenting judge, Justice Mark Weinberg, said discrepancies in the victim’s account left him with some doubt. Weinberg’s dissenting ruling was considered to have left an avenue open to take the case to the High Court.
In their submission, Pell’s team is challenging the appeals court ruling, arguing the judges should have found the jury must have had a reasonable doubt about Pell’s opportunity to commit the crime.
Former choirboy testified in court
In testimony to a closed court, the man said Pell had caught him and his friend drinking communion wine in the priest’s sacristy after mass one Sunday. He said Pell parted his robes and forced them to engage in sex acts, one by one, despite their sobs and pleas for him to let them go.
The second choirboy did not tell anyone about the abuse and died from an accidental overdose several years ago after years of drug use. The surviving choirboy said he decided to come forward after attending his friend’s funeral.
“Some commentators have suggested that I reported to the police somehow for my own personal gain. Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said in a statement in August.
“I have risked my privacy, my health, my wellbeing, my family. I have not instructed any solicitor in relation to a claim for compensation. This is not about money and never has been.
“I felt I should say what I saw and what happened to me. I had experienced something terrible as a child, something that marked my life. I wanted at least some good to come of it,” he said in the statement.
The Holy See previously said it would await the outcome of any Australian legal appeal before considering Pell’s future within the clergy. It has not yet responded to Wednesday’s High Court decision.
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