Top Vatican cleric Cardinal Pell convicted of child sex crimes
Melbourne, Feb 26: Cardinal George Pell, one of the most powerful men in the Roman Catholic Church, has been found guilty of child sexual assault in Australia in a verdict which has sent shockwaves through the Vatican and around the world.
Each of the five charges of which he was found guilty carries a maximum 10 year jail term.
The 77-year-old Vatican treasurer Cardinal, a trusted advisor of the Pope, was found guilty of orally raping one choirboy and molesting another in Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral 22 years ago.
Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric, will be sentenced after the end of a five-week trial in the Victorian County Court and over three days of deliberations by the jury.
The Cardinal was Archbishop of Melbourne when he abused the two 13-year-old boys and was managing the church’s response to widespread child abuse by priests through the “Melbourne Response”, which he designed, The Age reported.
One of the victims, now in his 30s, testified against Pell during the trial while other victim died in 2014 in accidental circumstances.
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, the paper reported.
County Court chief judge Peter Kidd has revoked the suppression order that prevented media from reporting the results of the trial and retrial.
The verdict was made public on Tuesday in Melbourne’s County Court and extensively covered by Australian media after a suppression order was lifted as a second trial, over allegations that he abused boys in a swimming pool in Ballarat in the 1970s, was abandoned due to lack of admissible evidence.
In 1996, Pell was the newly-appointed Archbishop of Melbourne and had just given mass one Sunday when he assaulted two 13-year-old boys who were found having sacramental wine in the priest’s sacristy.
Pell scolded them, exposed his genital from beneath the ornate ceremonial robes, and molested them.
A Melbourne jury in December found Pell guilty of five charges – one of sexually penetrating a child and four of committing indecent acts with children.
However, Pell has maintained his innocence and his lawyer Robert Richter told Chief Judge Peter Kidd that he had filed an application with the Court of Appeal last week against the conviction.
“There’s a very strong public interest that the media now cover the plea hearing and the sentence. It’s powerful, now, that public interest,” Kidd said.
The surviving victim, in a statement issued by his lawyer on Tuesday, noted the stressful and ongoing legal process.
“Like many survivors, I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle. Like many survivors, it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life. At some point we realise that we trusted someone we should have feared,” he said.
The guilty finding, on December 11, came after a first trial ended with a hung jury.
Pell, who is likely to be sentenced in the fortnight, will be the highest ranking Catholic figure in the world to be jailed for child sex abuse.
Judge Kidd has said Pell will be remanded in custody after a pre-sentence hearing.
Meanwhile, The Age reported that Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd this month sent over 100 letters to reporters, editors and media organisations indicating journalists are likely to be prosecuted for breaching the suppression order, sub judice contempt, scandalising the court and aiding and abetting contempts by overseas media.
“It is my opinion that the above publication breaches the suppression order, has a definite and real tendency to interfere with the administration of justice and therefore constitutes sub judice contempt, is contemptuous by reason of it scandalising the Court, and aided and abetted contempts by overseas media.
“At present, I intend to institute proceedings for contempt against you,” Judd said.