Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric, has been found guilty of five charges of child sexual abuse. The 77-year-old former archbishop of Melbourne will be convicted over offences committed against two choirboys during his time at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996: including one charge of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16, and four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16, The Guardian reports. He is the most senior Catholic cleric to ever be convicted of sexually abusing children.
Pell—once the third most powerful man in the Vatican, and currently on leave from his role as the city-state’s treasurer—will be taken into custody at his plea hearing tomorrow, according to the ABC, and is due to be sentenced next week. He will almost certainly face jailtime as a result of the charges.
While the unanimous “guilty” verdict was delivered by a jury in Melbourne’s country court on December 11 of last year, a nationwide suppression order imposed during the case meant that it could not be reported by Australian media until now. Dozens of journalists have since been threatened with a charge of contempt of court, and could face possible jail terms themselves, as a result of breaking that suppression order.
The Melbourne jury found that Pell walked in on two 13-year-old choirboys after a Sunday solemn mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in December 1996 and sexually assaulted them. The now-35-year-old complainant—the only surviving victim, after the other died of a heroin overdose in 2014—said he and the other choirboy had snuck into the priest’s sacristy after the procession left the church, and began drinking the sacramental wine. It was at this point that Pell walked in.
“He... said something like ‘what are you doing in here?’ or ‘you’re in trouble’,” the complainant told the trial, according to the ABC. “There was this moment where we all just froze and then he undid his trousers or his belt, like he started moving underneath his robes.”
Pell proceeded to push one of the boys’ heads down onto his penis, then forced the other to perform oral sex on him before fondling him while masturbating, the complainant stated. He was assaulted by Pell again a short while later.
Cardinal Pell has consistently pleaded not guilty to the allegations, which he previously described as “a load of garbage and falsehood.” Nonetheless, the jury took less than four days to reach their unanimous verdict. When asked whether the former archbishop would appeal the ruling, Pell’s defence barrister Robert Richter QC said: “Absolutely.”
Pope Francis, who once praised Pell for his honesty, is yet to publicly react. Two days after the guilty verdict was delivered, however, the Vatican announced that Pell had been removed from the pontiff’s council of advisers.
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