Cardinal George Pell will argue his conviction for child sex abuse should be overturned because the jury could not have reasonably found him guilty based on the evidence, according to a document filed in the Victorian Court of Appeal.
Pell, the most senior Catholic in the world to be found guilty of molesting children, is behind bars as he awaits sentencing on March 13.
He has launched an appeal against his guilty verdict, which was was delivered unanimously by a jury on Dec. 11, 2018 in the Victorian County Court in Melbourne and subject to a suppression order until Tuesday.
Pell was convicted of launching a sexual attack on two 13-year-old choirboys in 1996 at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne.
The court heard that Pell discovered the boys drinking sacramental wine in the priest's sacristy – a preparation room for the church service – and pushed the head of one of the boys down to his penis.
He then forced the other boy to perform oral sex on him, before touching the boy's genitals and masturbating at the same time. Six weeks later, in February 1997, he indecently assaulted the same boy.
According to a document lodged in the Victorian Court of Appeal on Feb. 21 2019, Pell will appeal his conviction based on three arguments.
The first is that the verdict is unreasonable and cannot be supported based on the evidence.
"On the whole of the evidence, including unchallenged exculpatory evidence from more than 20 Crown witnesses, it was not open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the word of the complainant alone," the document reads.
The trial hinged on evidence from one of the choirboys attacked by Pell, now a man aged in his 30s. The other victim died in 2014. Neither can be identified for legal reasons.
The second appeal argument is that County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd made an error when he barred Pell's defence team from using a "moving visual representation" aimed at proving it was impossible for Pell to have committed the sexual attack in the way it was described.
Pell will also argue that there was a "fundamental irregularity" in the trial process because Pell was not arraigned – when charges are read out to an accused person and they enter a plea of guilty or not guilty – in front of the jury panel.
The "jury panel" includes all people who are called to court for jury duty and aren't excused on the basis they are unable to sit through a trial. This is distinct from the jury itself, which is the 12 (sometimes 13 or 14 to safeguard against dropouts in long trials) people who are actually selected to sit through the trial and deliver a verdict.
Pell is expected to apply for bail while he appeals his conviction after he is sentenced on March 13.
Each count he was convicted on carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail, and Pell's barrister Robert Richter conceded the crimes warranted a prison term.
Richter argued there were no aggravating factors and said Pell forcing oral sex was "no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not volunteering or not actively participating".
The barrister later issued an apology for using the phrase "plain vanilla sexual penetration", saying it was "wholly inappropriate".
"It was in no way meant to belittle or minimise the suffering and hurt of victims of sex abuse, and in retrospect I can see why it caused great offence to many," he said in a statement.
Prosecutor Mark Gibson described the crimes as "serious" and "brazen", and said there were several aggravating factors, including the boys' youth and vulnerability and the fact Pell had abused his power to commit the offences.