Cardinal George Pell found guilty of child sex abuse

Home News Cardinal George Pell found guilty of child sex abuse

He was found guilty in a retrial last December, with the verdict sending shockwaves through the Vatican and around the world. A jury in an earlier trial was discharged, in September, when it was unable to reach a verdict. His legal team will appeal against the conviction.

County Court chief judge Peter Kidd has now revoked the suppression order that prevented media reporting the results of the trial and retrial.

Pell was stripped of his position as the Vatican’s chief financial officer and expelled from Pope Francis’ inner circle of trusted cardinals known as the Group of Nine, or C-9, shortly after the verdict, but due to the suppression order the world’s media was forced to pretend Pell, 77, stepped down due to his age.

On December 11, when Pell was found guilty of five charges including sexual penetration of a child under 16 – a charge his lawyer, Robert Richter, QC, likened to “oral rape” – the cardinal was granted bail and allowed to travel to Sydney to have knee replacement surgery before he was due to face another trial on more sex abuse charges.

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The second trial has now been abandoned and the suppression order lifted.

Pell will be the highest ranking Catholic figure in the world to be jailed for child sex abuse.

Judge Peter Kidd has said Pell will be remanded in custody after a pre-sentence hearing on Wednesday. He is likely to be sentenced in the fortnight after that hearing.

There was an audible gasp in the courtroom on the afternoon of December 11 when a jury found Pell guilty of one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four of committing an indecent act with, or in the presence of, a child under 16.

The cardinal pursed his lips and stared at the floor, frowning, as he sat in the dock while the guilty verdicts were read out.

Pell’s victims were two 13-year-old choirboys who were assaulted in December 1996 and February 1997. Both incidents took place after Sunday mass and while Pell was robed.

St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne.Credit:Luis Ascui

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 Pell walked in.

Pell, dressed in his Archbishop’s robes, told the boys they were in trouble and then exposed himself.

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He pushed one of the boys close to his penis, before turning to the second boy and putting his penis in the boy’s mouth.

Pell then masturbated as he fondled the second boy’s genitals.

In 1997, Pell pushed one of the boys against a wall in a cathedral hallway and squeezed the boy’s genitals.

The second boy, who is now in his 30s, reported the allegations to police in 2015. He gave evidence across three days, and at one point said the offending was “something I’ve carried for the whole of my life”.

The other victim died several years ago in accidental circumstances. He never reported the abuse and denied anything happened when he was asked by his mother.

Yet the evidence of the second victim was “powerful and persuasive” and withstood scrutiny under hours of cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Mark Gibson, SC, said.

The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the jury he was in shock after the abuse and didn’t report it for years, partly out of fear he wouldn’t be believed.

“What would I do if I went forward and said such a thing about an archbishop?” he said.

He also feared his school scholarship would be jeopardised if he reported the offending.

“If I mentioned anything like that to anyone it would be a pretty big deal,” he said.

“It would be something that I thought perhaps would be dismissed or not acknowledged and I knew that a scholarship [was] something that could be given and taken away, even at that age, and I didn’t want to lose that. It meant so much to me.”

So, he said, he put the events into one of the “dark corners or recesses” of his brain.

Mr Richter, who has previously accused Victoria Police of running a “get Pell operation”, told the jury the allegations were a “far-fetched fantasy”.

It would have been impossible for two choirboys to break away from the procession unnoticed and enter the priests’ sacristy, Mr Richter said.

Pell was due to face another trial, charged with molesting boys in a Ballarat swimming pool in the 1970s while he was a priest in his Victorian hometown. That trial has been abandoned and the charges dropped.

Pell was found guilty about three months after a jury in the earlier trial was unable to reach a verdict on the same charges and was discharged, which forced a retrial.

The jury of eight men and four women in the retrial found Pell guilty after deliberating for three and a half days.

Pell stayed in the dock for some time once the verdict was delivered. He held hands with Mr Richter for a moment and shook the hands of his other supporters, including former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, who was regularly in court during the retrial. Mr Fischer is also a former Australian ambassador to the Holy See.

After the guilty verdicts, Pell emerged from the court building flanked by about 20 police and protective services officers on that December afternoon. Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and clerical collar, he smiled slightly as he faced a pack of journalists, cameras crews and photographers.

Adam Cooper joined The Age in 2011 after a decade with AAP, the country’s news service. Email or tweet Adam with your news tips.

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