CARDINAL George Pell has been found guilty and faces jail for child sexual abuse – a court decision that shocked Catholics across Australia and around the world, including the bishops of Australia.
After a plea hearing in a Victorian court on February 27, Cardinal Pell, who was Vatican treasurer and one of the most senior Catholic figures in the world, is expected to face sentencing this week.
He has been found guilty of abusing two choir boys in Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.
A jury delivered the unanimous verdict in Melbourne’s county court months ago – on December 11 – but the result was subject to a strict suppression order that has only now been lifted allowing reporting of the case.
On December 11, Cardinal Pell was found guilty of five charges including sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four of committing an indecent act with, or in the presence of, a child under 16.
Cardinal Pell was granted bail, awaiting another trial on more sex abuse charges.
The second trial has now been abandoned, allowing the suppression order to be lifted.
On February 26, Cardinal Pell, eyes fixed, left the court soon after the suppression order was lifted and was jostled and heckled on the way to a waiting car.
He did not speak to waiting journalists.
Cardinal Pell has maintained his innocence, and his legal team will appeal against the conviction.
During Cardinal Pell’s court case, the court was told his victims were two 13-year-old choirboys who were assaulted in December 1996 and February 1997.
One of the victims, now in his 30s reported the allegations to police in 2015.
He gave evidence during the trial. The second boy died in 2014.
Both incidents of assault took place after Sunday Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Mebourne and while Cardinal Pell was vested.
It is now being reported that in the first incident, the choirboys broke away from a procession outside the cathedral and snuck back into the sacristy – a room where priests dress for Mass – and were swigging sacramental wine when Cardinal Pell walked in.
Cardinal Pell told the boys they were in trouble and then exposed himself.
The most serious allegation was that Pell had forced one choirboy to perform a sex act on him after abusing the other.
A further allegation was that in 1997 Cardinal Pell pushed one of the boys against a wall in a cathedral hallway and groped him.
A previous trial on the same five charges was discharged in September, when jurors were unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
However, Cardinal Pell was found guilty in the retrial last December.
A jury of 12 unanimously found him guilty of the five offences.
It took the jury three days to deliberate after a four-week trial.
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge has expressed shock at the final court outcome, but said he respected the rule of law.
“The same legal system that delivered the verdict will consider the appeal that the cardinal’s legal team has lodged,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“Our hope, at all times, is that through this process, justice will be served.
“In the meantime, we pray for all those who have been abused and their loved ones, and we commit ourselves anew to doing everything possible to ensure that the Church is a safe place for all, especially the young and the vulnerable.”
In a letter released by lawyer Viv Waller, the survivor of child sexual abuse committed by Cardinal Pell said he experienced “shame, loneliness, depression and struggle” in the years since the abuse.
“Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact on my life,” the statement read.
“At some point we realise that we trusted someone we should have feared and we fear those genuine relationships that we should trust.
“The process has been stressful and it is not over yet. I need space and time to cope with the ongoing criminal process.
“I am not a spokesperson about child sexual abuse. There are many other survivors and advocates who bravely fill this role.
“I am just a regular guy working to support and protect my family as best I can.”