George Pell was ‘excessively optimistic’ he’d receive bail when facing child sex abuse charges

Cardinal George Pell admits he was ‘overly optimistic’ after being wrongly convicted of the child sex abuse offences that derailed his career during a candid interview from his Vatican flat

  • He was convicted in 2018 of five counts of sexually abusing two 13-year-old boys
  • Pell spent 404 days behind bars before his six-year jail sentence was overturned
  • He now lives in Rome and said he was confident he’d get bail before sentencing
  • Pell, 79, was granted bail after he was convicted to have surgery on his knee

Cardinal George Pell has admitted he was ‘excessively optimistic’ he would be granted bail after being wrongly convicted of child sex abuse charges.

Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic official was convicted in December 2018 of five counts of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.

He spent 404 days behind bars before his six-year jail sentence was overturned in a final appeal to the High Court in April 2020.

Pell, who turns 80 next month, has since returned to his life in Rome having left his job as prefect of the Vatican’s economy ministry in 2017 to face the charges.

‘Looking back, I was probably excessively optimistic that I’d get bail,’ Pell said during a candid interview from his flat in the Italian city.

Cardinal George Pell has admitted he was ‘excessively optimistic’ he’d be granted bail despite having been convicted of child sex abuse charges that would later be quashed

Pell leaves the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne in June 2019 while appealing his conviction for sexually abusing two choirboys

Pell leaves the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne in June 2019 while appealing his conviction for sexually abusing two choirboys

The 79-year-old was granted bail after the wrongful conviction in December 2018 to undergo knee surgery.

He didn’t spend his first night behind bars until the end of February, 2019 ahead of being sentenced the following month.

Pell’s comments come ahead of the release of the second volume of his jailhouse memoir, ‘Prison Journal, Volume 2,’ chronicling the middle four months of his term.

The book charts his emotional low after the appeals court upheld his initial conviction, and ends with a sign of hope after Australia’s High Court agreed to hear his case.

Pell still has many detractors – he freely uses the term ‘enemies’ – who think him guilty.

But in Rome, even many of his critics believed in his innocence, and since returning in September he has enjoyed a well-publicised papal audience and participates regularly in Vatican events.

Pell returned to Rome in September not with the intention to stay but has now returned to his previous life in the Italian city

Pell returned to Rome in September not with the intention to stay but has now returned to his previous life in the Italian city

Pell had returned to Rome to clean out his apartment, intending to make Sydney his permanent home but he never left, now saying he’s become ‘very Italian’ – and has made checking the country’s Covid-19 statistics every morning a priority.

Earlier this week, the cardinal revealed the ‘humiliating’ strip searches were the worst part of his stint in prison.

‘Jail is undignified, you’re at the bottom of the pit, you’re humiliated, but by and large I was treated decently,’ he said during a radio interview with Irish reporter Colm Flynn on the BBC World Service.

‘The worst single thing I suppose were the strip searches, the brief humiliating… the ignominy of it is probably the worst of it.

Pell has spent time in some of Victoria's most dangerous prisons, including Barwon Prison near Geelong (pictured)

Pell has spent time in some of Victoria’s most dangerous prisons, including Barwon Prison near Geelong (pictured)

Pell is seen at a consistory ceremony at St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in November last year

Pell is seen at a consistory ceremony at St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican in November last year

‘I wasn’t too uncomfortable. [I had] a firm base for a bed, a hot shower and that’s very important to Australians. The food, there was too much of it.

Pell’s 13-month spell in jail was spent in Barwon Prison, near Geelong, and the Melbourne Assessment Prison.

‘One of the lessons from my time in jail is that the Christian package works,’ he said.

‘If you believe there is a God, if you believe that ultimately all things will be well, that ultimately in the afterlife there will be peace and harmony and justice, if you really believe that, (it doesn’t) matter what terrible thing might happen to you here.’

From allegations to sentence to freedom: A timeline of the George Pell case

1996

* Pell appointed Archbishop of Melbourne by Pope John Paul II

* Pell sexually abuses two 13-year-old choirboys after a Sunday solemn mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, according to a later jury finding.

* A second indecent act is committed by Pell against one of the choirboys in a corridor at the Cathedral, the same jury found.

2001-2014

* Pell served as Archbishop of Sydney, 2001-2014.

* He has created a cardinal in 2003.

2016

* The Herald-Sun reports Pell is being investigated by Victoria Police’s Sano taskforce for ‘multiple offences’ committed while he was a priest in Ballarat and Archbishop of Melbourne.

* Pell says the allegations are ‘without foundation and utterly false’ and calls for an inquiry into how the police investigation became public.

* Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton asks the anti-corruption watchdog to investigate the leak, but denies it came from police.

* Pell gives evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Ballarat.

* Under Vatican rules, Pell gives Pope Francis his resignation on his 75th birthday, as is customary. It is not accepted.

* Victoria Police investigators hand over to the state’s Office of Public Prosecutions a brief of evidence on allegations of sexual abuse by Pell.

* Officers travel to Rome to interview Pell over the abuse claims. He voluntarily participates in the interview.

2017

* Police present their final brief of evidence to the Office of Public Prosecutions to consider charges.

* Prosecutors give police the green light to charge Pell.

JUNE 2017

* Pell is charged with multiple counts of historical child sex offences.

* He denies the charges and vows to clear his name.

* Lawyers for Pell appear in Melbourne Magistrates Court.

* Pell takes leave from his Vatican finance chief role to fight the charges.

JULY 2017

* Pell returns to Australia.

* He hires top barrister Robert Richter QC.

* Supporters set up a fund to help Pell fight the charges.

2018

MARCH 2018

* Prosecutors drop one of the charges against Pell.

* A month-long committal hearing begins to determine if Pell will face trial.

* Prosecutors withdraw more charges.

* Mr Richter claims police conducted a ‘get Pell operation’ and accuses magistrate Belinda Wallington of bias.

She refuses to disqualify herself from the case.

MAY 2018

* Ms Wallington orders Pell stand trial on some charges but throws out others.

* Pell formally pleads ‘not guilty’.

* Two trials are ordered, separating the 1970s and 1990s allegations.

* A Victorian County Court employee is sacked for looking up information on the Pell case.

AUGUST 2018

* The 1990s ‘cathedral trial’ begins in the Victorian County Court in Melbourne.

* Pell pleads not guilty again to one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four of indecent acts with a child, over incidents involving two 13-year-old choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.

SEPTEMBER 2018

* The jury is discharged, unable to reach a verdict following a week of deliberation. Some jurors weep.

NOVEMBER 2018

* A retrial begins. The jury aren’t told of the previous hung jury.

DECEMBER 2018

* Pell is found guilty on all charges by an unanimous jury.

* Mr Richter says Pell will appeal.

* Suppression orders prevent Australian media reporting the verdict but it spreads through international media within hours.

2019

FEBRUARY 2019

* Hearings begin ahead of the second trial. Prosecutors drop another charge

* An appeal is filed against the cathedral trial conviction.

* A County Court judge deems vital evidence inadmissible.

* Prosecutors withdraw all remaining charges against Pell and drop a second trial over allegations Pell indecently assaulted boys in Ballarat in the 1970s when he was a parish priest.

* Pell is taken into custody on February 27 as the plea hearing begins.

MARCH 2019

* Pell is sentenced by County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd to a maximum of six years in prison. He must serve at least three years and eight months in jail before being eligible for parole. He will be a registered sex offender for life.

JUNE 2019

* Court of Appeal considers Pell’s application to challenge his conviction on June 5 and 6.

AUGUST 21, 2019

* Court of Appeal upholds Pell’s conviction.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2019

* Pell files for special leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia.

MARCH 11-12, 2020:

* The High Court convenes to hear the appeal.

APRIL 7, 2020:

* The High Court’s seven judges unanimously agree to dismiss all convictions and Pell is released from prison.

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