Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli believes convicted paedophile Cardinal George Pell when he protests his innocence, and wonders if the sole living victim got the name of his abuser wrong.
A day after Victoria’s Court of Appeal upheld Pell’s conviction for the rape of a 13-year-old choirboy and sexual assault of another at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996, Archbishop Comensoli said while he respected the courts, he also believed his friend and will continue to visit him in prison.
“I believe in what he said to me, on many occasions, that he’s innocent and I continue to be really quite shocked with all of how things are developed,” Archbishop Comensoli told Melbourne’s 3AW radio on Thursday.
But he also went on to say he also believed the victim who came forward to police was abused within the church – but questioned whether it was Pell who abused him.
“I believe both [men],” Archbishop Comensoli said.
“I genuinely think that I can take on my knowledge of the man in terms of George Pell and accept what he has said to me, I can also take on what I’ve heard of [the victim] and what he said in terms of abuse.”
The fallen Cardinal, who was once among the most powerful figures in the Vatican, has 28 days to apply for appeal to the High Court. That application needs to be granted before it can be heard.
Two judges would consider the application either on written submissions alone, or during a hearing when submissions are limited to 20 minutes for each side.
The court has to consider factors including whether it hearing an appeal is a matter of public importance, whether the decision relates to a matter of law, or if it’s in the interests of the administration of justice.
If Pell, 78, is unsuccessful and remains in prison, he could die in there, Archbishop Comensoli said.
“He’s an old man, his health’s never been real good for a while,” he said.
The Vatican press office released a statement acknowledging the Court of Appeal’s decision and said it would wait until any further appeals are exhausted before taking action.
“As the proceedings continue to develop, the Holy See recalls that the Cardinal has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court,” press officer Matteo Bruni said.
The Vatican has previously flagged its own internal investigation into the evidence against Pell.
One of Pell’s victims died in 2014, while the other gave evidence at his trial.
In their 325-page decision on Wednesday, Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and President Chris Maxwell found that man, now in his 30s, came across as truthful.
But in his dissenting judgment, Justice Mark Weinberg highlighted inconsistencies in the victim’s evidence.
The man said after the court decision that he felt a responsibility to come forward after the death of the other victim, his childhood friend.
“The experiences I have been through have helped me understand what is truly important,” he said.
Pell did not appeal his six-year sentence, so it stands, along with a minimum three years and eight months before he’s eligible for parole.
The earliest Pell can be released is October 2022, when he will be 81.