The country was rocked yesterday when the news broke that senior Catholic Cardinal George Pell had been convicted of five counts of sexual child abuse against two 13-year-old choirboys during his time as Archbishop of Melbourne.
Following the lifting of a gag order on Tuesday, it was revealed that the 77-year-old had been convicted of the charges on December 11, 2o18 at Melbourne’s county court, after the jury delivered a unanimous verdict. The Australian media had been unable to report on the trial until Tuesday as the judge had placed a suppression order on the case.
The Cardinal, who was previously dubbed “third in command” of the Catholic church due to his role as Secretariat for the Economy, will front court again on Wednesday morning for a pre-sentence hearing. However, Pell’s case is also listed before the Court of Appeal this afternoon where he is expected to apply for bail before two appeals judges at 2.30pm.
Pell was found guilty of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16, which his lawyer reportedly likened to “oral rape”, and four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16. Pell’s victims were two 13-year-old choirboys, who were abused by the then Archbishop of Melbourne in December 1996 and February 1997 in the city’s St Patrick Cathedral.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, graphic details of the assaults were heard in court. In the first instance, Pell reportedly confronted the two boys in the priests’ sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral, undoing his pants and forcing the head of one of the boys close to his genitals. He then moved to the second boy and put his penis in the boy’s mouth.
He was also found guilty of forcing the second boy to lower his pants and sexually assaulting him, and of later masturbating while assaulting the second boy.
The allegations from the second boy, who is now in his 30s, were only reported in 2015 as he was “in shock” following the abuse and feared no one would believe him.
#PopeFrancis confirms the precautionary measures imposed by the local Ordinary, that the former Archbishop of #Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, is prohibited from exercising his public ministry, and from having any contact with minors. #PopeProtectionMinors https://t.co/WqDf1MHg4R
— Vatican News (@VaticanNews) February 26, 2019
Following the news yesterday, Head of the Roman Catholic Church Pope Francis confirmed the “precautionary measures” taken by local church officers to prohibit Pell from exercising public ministry, as well as banning him from having any “voluntary contact with minors”, according to Vatican News.
“This is painful news that, as we are well aware, has shocked many people, not only in Australia,” Vatican spokesperson Alessandro Gisotti, said in a statement. “As already expressed on other occasions, we have the utmost respect for the Australian judicial authorities.”
He added: “Out of this respect, we await the outcome of the appeals process, recalling that Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence and has the right to defend himself until the last stage of appeal. While awaiting the definitive judgement, we unite ourselves with the Australian bishops in praying for all victims of abuse, and reaffirm our commitment to do everything possible so that the Church might be a safe home for all, especially for children and the most vulnerable.”