Cardinal George Pell outside the County Court following last year’s verdict.
Cardinal George Pell outside the County Court following last year’s verdict.

Pell guilty of child sex offences

CARDINAL George Pell has been found guilty of sexual offending against young choirboys while serving as Melbourne's archbishop.

News of the stunning verdicts, delivered in December, can today finally be reported after a suppression order was lifted banning publication of anything to do with Pell's trial.

The order was in place to protect an expected second trial over allegations Pell indecently assaulted boys at a Ballarat swimming pool in the 1970s.

But prosecutors today dropped that trial after a ruling by County Court chief judge Peter Kidd excluded certain evidence considered crucial to the case.

Cardinal Pell is now facing the prospect of a significant term of imprisonment.

It is the darkest episode in the modern Catholic Church: Pell is the most senior official to ever be convicted of child sexual offending.

There will now be intense pressure on Pope Francis to take swift and severe action following the verdicts.

 

Cardinal Pell leaving the County Court of Victoria on bail after being found guilty of historical sex offences. Picture: Mark Stewart
Cardinal Pell leaving the County Court of Victoria on bail after being found guilty of historical sex offences. Picture: Mark Stewart

It is expected there will be calls for Pell to be defrocked.

But any move would likely wait until his anticipated appeal, with Francis previously saying he would comment on the case only after it had concluded in its entirety.

He has remained on bail since the verdicts were delivered so he could undergo a double-knee replacement in Sydney.

But he is expected to soon be stripped of his freedom with the chief judge flagging he would remand him pending his sentence hearing.

The Catholic world leader looked stunned as his County Court jury delivered unanimous guilty verdicts to all charges, five in total, following a five week trial.

The jury deliberated for three and a half days before reaching their verdict.

They were under strict instructions not to make Cardinal Pell a scapegoat for the failings of the Catholic Church's appalling handling of child sexual abuse.

The 12-person jury, of eight men and four women, included a church pastor, chef, librarian and teacher among them.

 

As Catholic Bishop in 1988.
As Catholic Bishop in 1988.


It was the second jury to deliberate over the matter after another jury was unable to reach a unanimous, or even majority 11 to 1, verdict.

By their verdict the jury in this second trial accepted that Cardinal Pell abused the two young choirboys after a Sunday Solemn mass inside St Patrick's Cathedral following his first mass as archbishop there in the mid-1990s.

Just one of the victims gave evidence at trial. The other passed away several years ago and had denied being abused by any priest.

The living witness, now aged in his 30s, said he and his friend were young sopranos, on scholarship at prestigious St Kevin's college under an obligation to sing in the cathedral choir.

He said after a Sunday mass he and the other victim ran away during a church procession and made their way to the priests' sacristy inside the cathedral.

Once there they drank altar wine before being caught by Cardinal Pell who proceeded to indecently assault them.

Cardinal Pell was found guilty of one count of sexual penetration of a child and four indecent act charges.

 

Then-Bishop George Pell leads the first traditional Latin Mass seen at St Patrick's Cathedral for 25 years.
Then-Bishop George Pell leads the first traditional Latin Mass seen at St Patrick's Cathedral for 25 years.

The victim gave evidence in a closed court, and little is known about his testimony.

Applications for a transcript of his evidence have been refused by the court.

Cardinal Pell vehemently denied any wrong doing since he was first charged in June last year.

In a record of interview played to the court he forcefully denied allegations made against him and said he would be able to prove the offences alleged were impossible.

One of his key defences was that as Archbishop he was never left alone inside the Cathedral.

His master of ceremonies Monsignor Charles Portelli testified that he escorted the then Archbishop from the moment he arrived at the cathedral, until the moment he left.

Cardinal Pell's high-powered legal team, spearheaded by leading QC Robert Richter, argued it would have been impossible for the choirboys to escape the procession unnoticed.

Further, he questioned their ability to gain access to the sacristy, and if so, said they would have been spotted soon after by church staff.

Former cathedral staff and choirboys gave evidence at trial, but none were able to corroborate the central evidence given by the living complainant.

By his own version of events only Cardinal Pell and the two choir boys were in the room at the time they were abused.

The boys never spoke about the abuse.

Cardinal Pell (seen here in 1988 when he was Bishop of Melbourne) has always denied wrongdoing.
Cardinal Pell (seen here in 1988 when he was Bishop of Melbourne) has always denied wrongdoing.

Sources close to the Cardinal said the legal team remain stunned by the verdict.

They are planning an appeal.

"The appellate judges have a serious task ahead of them," a source close to Pell said.

Cardinal Pell looked visibly stunned as the first guilty verdict was delivered, but remained motionless after that.

His trusted aide, who supported him throughout the trial, signalled her support to him after the verdicts were handed down.

The verdicts, published around the world despite the court's strict suppression order, sent shockwaves around the world; Cardinal Pell is the most senior official to be convicted of a sex offence in the history of the church.

He stood down from his position as Vatican treasurer to return to Melbourne to fight the charges.

Sources said he hoped to return to Rome following the trial.

It appears now his career, marred by his hardline conservative stance that has made him a divisive public figure, has ended in disgrace.

shannon.deery@news.com.au

Seen here as Archbishop in 2000, it was after his first mass in that role that some of the offences occurred.
Seen here as Archbishop in 2000, it was after his first mass in that role that some of the offences occurred.


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