Cardinal Pell found guilty of sexual offences in Australia

Cardinal George Pell has been found guilty of sexual offences in Australia, making him the highest-ranking Catholic figure to receive such a conviction.

Pell abused two choir boys in the rooms of a Melbourne cathedral in 1996, a jury found. He had pleaded not guilty.

As Vatican treasurer, the 77-year-old Australian was widely seen as the Church’s third most powerful official.

Pell is due to face sentencing hearings from Wednesday. He has lodged an appeal against his conviction.

His trial was heard twice last year because a first jury failed to reach a verdict. The verdict was handed down in December, but it could not be reported until now for legal reasons.

A second jury unanimously convicted him of one charge of sexually penetrating a child under 16, and four counts of committing an indecent act on a child under 16.

Pell was swarmed by media and heckled by onlookers as he left a court on Tuesday.

The Catholic Church worldwide has in recent years faced a damaging series of allegations relating to sex abuse by priests, and claims that these cases were covered up.

What did the court hear?

Pell was archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 when he found the two 13-year-old boys in cathedral rooms following a mass, the County Court of Victoria was told.

After telling them they were in trouble for drinking communion wine, Pell forced each boy into indecent acts, prosecutors said. He abused one of the boys again in 1997.

The court heard testimony from one of the victims. The other died of a drug overdose in 2014.

A jury rejected an argument by Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter QC, that the allegations were fantasies contrived by the victims.

What has been the reaction?

In a statement on Tuesday, Pell’s surviving victim – who cannot be named – called the case stressful and “not over yet”.

The man said he had experienced “shame, loneliness, depression and struggle” because of the abuse.

“Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life,” he said.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said the conviction had “shocked many across Australia and around the world”, reiterating its vow to make the Church “a safe place for all”.

Abuse survivor groups welcomed the verdict.

What has Pell said?

“Cardinal George Pell has always maintained his innocence and continues to do so,” read a statement issued on his behalf on Tuesday.

Pell would await the outcome of his appeal, the brief note read.

Why was the case kept secret?

Last May, a judge handed down a legal order which prevented any reporting of Pell’s trial and conviction.

It was designed to prevent a separate trial – which will no longer go ahead – from being influenced by the first trial.

The abandoned trial was to hear unrelated allegations – strongly denied by Pell – that he indecently assaulted boys in the 1970s. Prosecutors withdrew their case on Tuesday, citing insufficient evidence.

The collapse of the second trial led to the lifting of the publication ban.

BBC