Peter Westmore, who was present at the first mistrial last September and the later retrial in November, told EWTN’s News Nightly on March 13 that having heard “all the evidence” he wondered “how a jury was able to reach this verdict is utterly incomprehensible.”
“A lot of other Australians are saying the same thing,” said Westmore, a former president of the National Civic Council in Australia, a Christian lobby group.
“It’s unbelievable this verdict has been handed down. Therefore, I think the sentence is utterly unfair given that Cardinal Pell is not guilty of what he’s been accused of.”
The 77-year old Australian cardinal was sentenced on Wednesday to six years imprisonment after being convicted in December of sexual abuse of two choirboys in 1996. He will be eligible for parole after serving three years and eight months of his sentence.
He has vigorously protested his innocence and after the verdict immediately lodged an appeal that will be heard in June.
Westmore noted that the sentence was “light” considering the maximum penalty for all five charges would have been 50 years in prison.
But he also recalled how at both trials, about 25 witnesses appeared for the prosecution and “not one” of them other than the complainant “supported his complaint in any respect at all.”
Westmore dismissed Chief Judge Peter Kidd’s remark during sentencing that the cardinal had shown “staggering arrogance.” It is the “verdict which is wrong,” Westmore said. “It’s not Cardinal Pell’s conduct which is wrong.”
And he highlighted the impact of negative media coverage on the trial over “several years” which, he believes, made the verdict “inevitable.”
“It was trial by media,” he said. “It was, as the judge pointed out, a witch hunt against Cardinal Pell” which “affected the jury’s deliberations in my view.”
Turning to the appeal, Westmore distinguished it from a retrial and said it would have to show some serious error, either by the trial judge of by the jury. He said a “clear miscarriage of justice” would have to be found. “I believe there has been,” he said. “The question is whether those judges will who will decide the case. We will have to wait and see.”
Asked how Cardinal Pell was coping with the sentence, Westmore described him as “ashen” and “clearly feeling the pressure.” But he added that the cardinal had borne the vilification with “great fortitude and with tranquility.”
When Westmore congratulated him on his composure, the cardinal said he was able to feel that way “because of all the messages of support and the prayers of many people.”
According to George Weigel, a lifelong friend of Cardinal Pell, the cardinal is being held in solitary confinement with some reading material and allowed a few visitors a week, but he is not permitted to say Mass in his cell on the grounds that prisoners are not allowed to lead religious services in prisons in the State of Victoria and wine is not permitted in cells.
“In a sense he is undergoing a form of martyrdom,” Westmore said, “having to bear the cross for his faith.”
He said he believed Cardinal Pell “has undoubtedly been persecuted in the media because he is an outspoken and strong advocate for orthodoxy within the Catholic Church, and for a strong Christian role in a civilizing force within our society.”