AUSTRALIAN Cardinal George Pell, 77 – the Vatican treasurer and a close adviser to Pope Francis – is almost certain to face prison when he is brought to court in March to be sentenced for one charge of sexual penetration of a child and four charges of an indecent act with or in the presence of a child in the late 1990s.
Last year he became the most senior Catholic official to be found guilty of child sex offences to date, but the news wasn’t reported in Australia at the time because of a reporting restriction imposed by Chief Judge Peter Kidd.
But this week the judge lifted the restriction and the extent of the abuse was immediately revealed. News outlets around the globe are leading with reports of the trial.
The prosecution’s case hinged on the testimony of one man, who said Pell sexually abused him and another boy in Melbourne’s historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral after mass.
The second victim later died from a drug overdose having never revealed the abuse to anyone. The surviving accuser can not be identified under Australian law governing sex abuse victims.
In court the accuser told the jury how Pell, then Archbishop of Melbourne, discovered the two choirboys drinking wine in the priest’s sacristy, a small room at the back of the cathedral.
He claimed Pell forced one of the boys to perform oral sex on him and performed an indecent act on his friend. One month later, the victim said Pell pushed him up against a wall and groped his genitals.Under Australian law, all details of the first trial, including its existence, were suppressed last year due to concerns they could prejudice future juries.
The court order was lifted after the crown prosecutor chose to not proceed with a planned second trial into further child sex allegations against Pell.
Pell has repeatedly maintained his innocence. His legal team confirmed on Tuesday they had filed an appeal against the guilty verdict.
The Vatican has yet to comment on the verdict. Pope Francis quietly removed Pell from his small council of advisors for “reasons of advancing age” in December, before the news of the cardinal’s conviction became public.
The cardinal never took the stand in his own defence but a video of his meeting with Australian detectives in Rome in 2016 was played to the court.
In the video, Pell said the charges were “the products of fantasy.” When asked whether he’d forced a boy to perform oral sex he said it was:
A deranged falsehood. What a load of absolute and disgraceful rubbish. Completely false. Madness.
Pell looked shocked when the “guilty” verdict was read out on December 11 after the jury had deliberated for three and a half days.
It was the second time Pell had faced court on this set of charges. An earlier, unreported trial in August had resulted in a hung jury after almost six days of deliberations.
The lifted reporting restrictions could not have come at a worse time for the Pope, who has been heavily criticised for remarks he made at the conclusion of a four-day Vatican abuse summit.