George Pell arrives at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court. Picture: AP
George Pell arrives at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court. Picture: AP

Opinion: Questions remain in case against George Pell

Last Sunday I walked the route a man says he took as a 13-year-old choirboy before he was raped by Cardinal George Pell. I timed it. And I am stunned.

Did Victoria's most senior judges make a terrible mistake in their maths when they ruled against Pell last month?

Did they keep an innocent man in jail, convicted of sexual assaults he could not possibly have done?

Pell is now asking the High Court for leave to appeal against the two-to-one finding last month of Victoria's Court of Appeal, which decided the jury verdict against Pell was not unreasonable.

Pell's 12-page application makes a powerful case that Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Court of Appeal president Chris Maxwell set an impossibly high hurdle - and a legally mistaken one - by effectively making Pell prove his innocence.

The two judges in effect ruled that as long as it was possible Pell did one highly unlikely thing after another, it was open to a jury to declare him guilty beyond reasonable doubt - even though taken together the unlikely may seem impossible.

So the jury could reasonably believe Pell slipped away from his procession after Mass, didn't stay to talk to parishioners as usual, escaped the MC who always accompanied him, found and raped two boys he didn't know and raped them in the normally busy sacristy with the door open.

George Pell arrives at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court. Picture: AP
George Pell arrives at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court. Picture: AP


Oh and he did this when one of the boys, now dead, told his mother he didn't.

But it was something else that got me walking the route that Pell's sole accuser said he took - a line in Pell's application quoting what the two judges themselves said must have happened if the accusations against Pell were true.

They said the only time Pell could have assaulted the two boys in the sacristy was in the five or six minutes of "private prayer time" immediately after Mass finished.

After that, the servers would be going in and out, bringing back things used in the Mass and stored in the sacristy.

The two judges had also said that "quiet time" started when the choir (including Pell's accuser) formed a procession, led by five servers dressed in black, and "processed" to the Cathedral's front door.

To be precise, the evidence was the quiet time started as the procession walked up the central aisle.

The judges said the procession then walked around the Cathedral to a gate near the back, opening to a corridor inside.

The servers would then turn left, to walk just 8m to the sacristy, where they'd store their cross and start the clean up. The choir would turn right and go to their room.

It was at that moment, the accuser told the court, that he and the second alleged victim decided to sneak off.

They doubled back to enter a side door of the cathedral, and turned back again to go to the sacristy. There Pell found them and raped them over some five minutes.



A map of St Patrick’s Cathedral.
A map of St Patrick’s Cathedral.

But can you see the obviously impossible?

Where were the servers? When the boys supposedly escaped the procession, the servers at the front were just 8m from the sacristy themselves.

They must have reached it before the two boys got there from the other side. There was zero chance then of Pell then finding five minutes to rape the boys without being seen.

How was this not stark-staring obvious?

But I mentioned my walk. Remember, the judges said the boys must have been raped in the five or six minutes of private prayer time after the Mass, or they could not have been raped at all.

So I walked the route Pell's accuser said he took after that Mass and I timed it.

Up the centre aisle with the procession: one minute.

Around the Cathedral with the procession to the gate at the back: 2½ minutes.

Back to the Cathedral's side door, running much of the way: 40 seconds.

Walking to the sacristy: 20 seconds.

"Poking" around, opening a cupboard, finding altar wine and taking a "few swigs": one minute.



Do the maths: that adds up to five minutes and 30 seconds - all that "quiet time" of "five or six minutes".

That leaves just 30 secs at most for Pell to allegedly find the boys, rape one, abuse the other, fondle himself, dress and leave - an assault the prosecution agreed must have taken about five minutes.

That's the maths. And it adds up to this: this rape could not possibly have happened.

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