DISGRACED Catholic Cardinal George Pell had an excursion from his jail cell on Wednesday to learn whether his conviction on child sexual assault charges would be confirmed or overturned.
Not long after arriving at court, Pell was on his way back to solitary confinement. Those who could see his face reported that he looked a broken man.
Pell did not return to jail for being controversial, or for leading a church which has demonstrated abject moral failure.
Nor is he to remain in jail because where there is smoke there must be fire.
Pell remains in jail for the sexual assault of two boys more than twenty years ago, because two Victorian Court of Criminal Appeal judges found it beyond reasonable doubt that Pell did indeed commit the crime for which a jury convicted him.
Importantly, Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, speaking for herself and Justice Christopher Maxwell, said "the survivor was clearly not a liar...he was a compelling witness (and) was a witness of truth".
The two judges comprehensively rejected arguments of Pell's lawyers that the survivor made things up to fill gaps in his story, and his testimony "was all a fantasy, a product of his imagination".
The concept of "beyond reasonable doubt" has no specific meaning in our criminal justice system. It is a matter left for a jury to decide in the circumstances of each and every criminal prosecution.
Where there is a reasonable doubt, the benefit of that doubt must go to the alleged offender. In this case that was George Pell.
Pell's jury was certain there was no reasonable doubt, and now two highly experienced criminal judges have said they have no reasonable doubt.
This decision is enormously important for all child abuse survivors and for the broader community.
What it says is that all of the things found during the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse about the behaviour of survivors has been heard and is being taken on board at the highest levels of our criminal justice system.
It is entirely normal for there to be a long delay between abuse occurring and the victim reporting to police.
The royal commission found where abuse occurred within the Catholic Church, that delay can be as long as 32 years.
It is to be expected that there will be little corroborating evidence to support the victim's account of the event. The sexual abuse of children is typically perpetrated in secret and often accompanied by threats to the victim.
It is absolutely normal for a survivor to "lose" some peripheral details of the abuse from their memory while recalling more distressing aspects of the event in excruciating detail.
While information varies from state to state, it is a tragic reality that around 60 per cent of children who have been sexually assaulted in an institutional setting will never make a formal complaint to police.
Those who do make a formal complaint have, at best, an even chance of the matter being prosecuted in the courts. Those matters which do get to court have about a 45 per cent success rate, and then one third of all convictions for child sexual assault are overturned on appeal.
Another third of convictions have the prison sentence reduced on appeal.
Had Pell's appeal been successful, there is little doubt that the statistics relating to complaints would become worse. People already facing poor odds of having their day in court, and being mindful of the relentless cross-examination endured by Pell's victim, would quite logically question the benefits to them of coming forward.
This decision is a momentous point in the effort to make our criminal justice system something closer to a victim justice system.
This decision is a momentous point in the effort to make our criminal justice system something closer to a victim justice system. Not because it was about Pell, but because the wisdom of the jury was supported, and because some of the tactics used by defence lawyers to damage survivor credibility have passed their use by date.
Not because it was about Pell, but because the wisdom of the jury was supported, and because some of the tactics used by defence lawyers to damage survivor credibility have passed their use by date.
Pell left court looking like a broken man. That will be disturbing for those close to him, and those who support him.
While they lament his fate, I trust they spare a thought for the thousands of broken people left in the wake of the Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal in Australia, and the many more around the world.