Cardinal George Pell Civil Case Catholic Archdiocese

By Danny Morgan

Posted Thu 4 Aug 2022 at 4:30pmThursday 4 Aug 2022 at 4:30pm, updated Yesterday at 5:58am

A man wearing a black robe holds his fingers to his temple as he speaks.
The father of a former choirboy who died of a drug overdose in 2014 has launched a case against Cardinal George Pell.(AP: Gregorio Borgia)

The Catholic Church is using a controversial legal tactic in a bid to be excused from a civil damages claim lodged in the Victorian Supreme Court involving Cardinal George Pell.

Key points:

  • The man lodging the claim says he suffered nervous shock after learning of allegations his son was abused by Cardinal Pell
  • Cardinal Pell has always maintained his innocence and was acquitted by the High Court of criminal charges in 2020
  • The Archdiocese has asked to be excused from the civil case, claiming the father was not the primary victim of any alleged abuse

A man is suing the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne and Cardinal Pell for damages, claiming he suffered nervous shock after learning of allegations Cardinal Pell sexually assaulted his son when he was a choirboy at St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne in 1996.

In 2018, Cardinal Pell was found guilty of the assault, but the High Court unanimously quashed the conviction in 2020.

The Cardinal has always maintained his innocence.

Church calls upon ‘Ellis defence’

In a preliminary hearing in the Victorian Supreme Court on Thursday, the Archdiocese indicated it wanted to rely on what is known as the ‘Ellis defence’ to be excused from the case.

The Ellis defence emerged out of a 2007 NSW Court of Appeal judgement that prevented an abuse survivor suing the Church because it was not a legal entity.

Survivors have long complained about the Church using the Ellis defence, and in 2018 the Victorian Parliament passed legislation that required unincorporated associations such as the Church to nominate an entity that is capable of being sued.

However, lawyers for the Archdiocese argued that legislation did not apply in this case because the father of the choirboy was not the primary victim of the alleged abuse.

The facade of St Patrick's Cathedral reaches into a cloudy sky.
The civil damages claim relates to allegations of abuse at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.(ABC News: Danielle Bonica)

The father’s barrister, Julian Burnside QC, disagreed, arguing the 2018 legislation applied to both primary victims and their families.

“What our learned friends’ submission amounts to is this: If the victim of child abuse dies, then the family has no remedy, they have no-one they can sue,” Mr Burnside said.

“Now that’s plainly wrong in our submission.”

Justice Michael McDonald has reserved his decision on whether to excuse the Archdiocese.

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Archdiocese pledges to pay any potential damages

If the Archdiocese is excused, Cardinal Pell would remain a defendant.

In a letter to the court, solicitors for the Archdiocese indicated that, even if the Church avoided liability, it would still pay any damages should the judge find against Cardinal Pell.

“If the plaintiff is awarded damages against the second defendant [George Pell], the Archdiocese will ensure that the award is paid by indemnifying the second defendant in respect of the award,” the letter said.

The father of the choirboy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, launched his case last month.

His son died of a drug overdose in 2014 and the father only learned of the allegations against Cardinal Pell the following year.

The father is claiming general damages, special damages and seeking compensation for past loss of earning capacity as well as past and future medical expenses.

His solicitor, Lisa Flynn, said the High Court’s decision to quash Cardinal Pell’s conviction would not affect the civil proceedings.

“The High Court made some decisions in relation to the criminal prosecution against [George] Pell. Our case is a civil case against George Pell and the Catholic Archdiocese,” she said.

RETRIEVED

Morgan, Danny. (2022). Cardinal George Pell Civil Case Catholic Archdiocese. Retrieved https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-08-04/cardinal-george-pell-civil-case-catholic-archdiocese/101301514. ABC News, Australia.

George Pell walks free after High Court quashes conviction, citing “significant possibility” he is innocent


The former financial controller of the Vatican and most senior Catholic Church official to be found guilty of child sexual assault, Cardinal George Pell, will be released from prison and have his conviction overturned. He has served more than 400 days in isolation behind bars.

In December 2018, a Melbourne jury unanimously convicted Pell of five charges relating to child sexual abuse dating back to a Sunday service at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996. 

However, on the 7th of April 2020, the High Court said there was “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof”. 

The bench also said the jury should have entertained a doubt around Pell’s guilt with respect to each of the individual offences. Because there was reasonable doubt, the High Court quashed all of Pell’s convictions and ordered verdicts of acquittal be entered in its place.

It was not enough that the jurors found the complainant and witnesses to be believable, credible and honest. 

Pell’s legal team, led by Bret Walker SC (Senior Counsel), argued it was “literally impossible” for the complainant to have been abused on the day in question and claimed a “formidable list” of factors and events providing Pell with an alibi.

Pell’s first appeal was shot down on a majority of two to one. This ‘botched decision’ by Victoria’s highest court left Pell in prison for an additional seven months for crimes he never committed.

Walker SC argued on behalf of Pell before a full bench of seven High Court judges in Canberra. Walker SC claimed that just because the complainant was believable, it shouldn’t discount other evidence placing Pell’s conviction in doubt.

The High Court decision does not deny the validity of the complainant, a former choir boy who testified he and a friend were sexually assaulted by Pell. Walker SC and Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Kerri Judd QC, agreed the choirboy was a credible, believable witness.

However, all seven High Court judges, Australia’s finest legal minds, decided in Pell’s favour. 

Pell learned of his success from inside his isolated cell at Barwon Prison, home to some of Australia’s most dangerous criminals. 

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Image: Al Jazeera

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