George Pell speaks out for the first time since his release


Cardinal George Pell has lifted the lid on his stint behind bars, revealing how his experience has shed new light on prisoners who are ‘falsely condemned’.

The 78-year-old spoke publicly for the first time since his release on Tuesday in a pre-recorded interview with Sky News Australia presenter Andrew Bolt.

The cardinal was convicted in December 2018 of five charges of child sexual abuse relating to allegations he raped a 13-year-old choirboy and molested another at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.

He was acquitted by the High Court last week and released from jail after 405 days behind bars. 

Speaking on his ordeal, Pell revealed his time in Barwon Prison was ‘quite atypical’, and said he got by with the support of two prisoner friends. 

 

Cardinal George Pell spoke publicly for the first time since his release on Tuesday in an extraordinary pre-recorded interview with Sky News Australia presenter Andrew Bolt

Pictured: Pell arrives at the Seminary Of The Good Shepherd in Sydney on April 8

Pictured: Pell arrives at the Seminary Of The Good Shepherd in Sydney on April 8

At the time of his sentencing, there was speculation the cardinal would need special protection behind bars, as paedophiles and child molesters are known targets for violent inmates.  

But Cardinal Pell said his case was actually a hotly debated topic with other prisoners in the jail, with some supporting him. 

‘I don’t doubt that there were threats, but quite a number of prisoners said to me that it’s the only time they’ve ever heard anybody, any prisoners, taking the side of a priest who was convicted of paedophilia,’ he told Bolt. 

‘I actually heard a debate from the prisoners down the other end on whether I was guilty or not. At one stage one of the prisoners said, ‘Well I’m going with him, he’s got two prime ministers supporting him.’

‘My experience was quite atypical, I only spoke at any length with four people. The three that were with me down at Barwon were very kind to me. There’s a lot of goodness in a lot of people.’ 

Despite being publicly vilified over a crime he didn’t commit, Cardinal Pell said he ‘never felt forsaken’ and got through his prison stint with the support of friends and family. 

However, he admitted he most likely would not have been able to cope as easily had he been forced to spend three or four years behind bars. 

Pell (pictured leaving court last year) revealed his time in Barwon Prison was 'quite atypical'

Pell (pictured leaving court last year) revealed his time in Barwon Prison was ‘quite atypical’ 

The cardinal said he had supporters in jail, including two friends who congratulated him when his conviction was quashed. Pictured: Barwon Prison

The cardinal said he had supporters in jail, including two friends who congratulated him when his conviction was quashed. Pictured: Barwon Prison 

‘I’ve never felt forsaken, I got something like 4,000 letters. I deeply regret that my family and my close friends had to go through what they’ve done, but I got immense support,’ he added. 

‘I had a daily routine. I followed the advice I had often given to priests when they’re in a bit of trouble. Keep up your prayers. Get out of bed at a good time. Eat properly. Exercise every day. Try to sleep at night.

‘I also read and wrote. A lot of good friends sent me many articles, loads of books, so I’d quite settled into the routine.’ 

Cardinal Pell likened his prison experience to a ‘worldly retreat’, having access to a kettle and a television set, but insisted prison was a ‘grim place.’  

‘You’ve got a toilet, you’ve got a shower, a bed with a firm base and a chair. But I used to say I was up at the Toorak end because all us quiet people were there,’ he said, in a bizarre comparison to the affluent Melbourne suburb.  

‘But the poor fellas at the other end, [were] often damaged by ice.’  

Pell said his time behind bars had also made him more aware of those who are falsely condemned, such as his jailhouse friend who was convicted of murder.  

Pell told Sky News presenter Andrew Bolt he 'never felt forsaken' and got through his prison stint with the support of friends and family

Pell told Sky News presenter Andrew Bolt he ‘never felt forsaken’ and got through his prison stint with the support of friends and family

Pope Benedict XVI with Cardinal George Pell in July 2008 at an inter-faith meeting in Sydney

Pope Benedict XVI with Cardinal George Pell in July 2008 at an inter-faith meeting in Sydney

‘I don’t think he is [a murderer] and one of the things I have become a bit interested in is people who are falsely condemned,’ he told Bolt.  

That man, who was unnamed, was one of two friends who congratulated Pell after he learned of the High Court decision to free him on television.

Cardinal Pell said he ‘took great pleasure’ in watching how ‘disconcerted’ the television reporter looked when it was announced his conviction was quashed. 

‘When it came through, one enormous cheer went up from outside and then my two friends came knocking on the door congratulating me,’ he said. 

The cardinal also answered long-held questions about who paid for his multi-million-dollar defence.

He said he contributed savings to his legal team, as did a lot of generous, ordinary Catholics – as well as some wealthy people who ‘kicked in very solidly.’ 

Pell’s defence included two trials, neither of which he gave evidence at, though he considered it at his second trial.

But he said he was concerned he would ‘come across as my nasty aggressive self’ and lash out at prosecutor Mark Gibson SC.

Cardinal Pell said he ‘became so incensed at the way prosecutors dealt with [two witnesses]’ at his trial. 

‘I thought that if I were to get in there I’ll have such a go at that fella because of this outrage,’ he said.

Pell admitted the lowest point in his trial and conviction was the decision of the Victorian Court of Appeal last year, saying he never ‘believed there was the remotest possibility that a couple of judges would not uphold my appeal.’ 

The 78-year-old spoke candidly about the church's failings following his release from prison in a sit down interview with Sky News Australia presenter Andrew Bolt. Pell is pictured in 2008

The 78-year-old spoke candidly about the church’s failings following his release from prison in a sit down interview with Sky News Australia presenter Andrew Bolt. Pell is pictured in 2008

Pell told Bolt any suggestion that he is anti-victim or not sufficiently sympathetic toward abuse survivors grieves him, and that he worked hard ‘when it wasn’t easy or fashionable’. 

But he admitted he is ashamed of the church’s response and ‘occasionally’ wished he had done things differently.

He said he also thought it was ‘ironic’ that he was convicted of child sexual abuse when it was he who led the Melbourne Archdiocese response against it.

‘I think it’s a bit ironic that I’m the figurehead, the scapegoat that has copped most of this because what I did very early in 1996 is set up the Melbourne Response,’ he said.

As for the future, Pell said he would spend some time in Rome but plans to stay in Sydney, writing and growing cabbages. 

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. 

APRIL, 14, 2020:

Cardinal Pell is reportedly investigated over fresh child abuse allegations.  

 

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