Cardinal George Pell convicted of five child sex offences

Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, raped a choirboy in the 1990s and molested another.

His victims were two 13-year-old boys on scholarships to the prestigious St Kevin’s College.

The pair “nicked off” after a Sunday solemn mass in late 1996 and were caught swigging sacramental wine in the priest’s sacristy by Pell, newly installed as Archbishop of Melbourne.

Pell scolded them, exposed his penis 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.

Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic, Cardinal George Pell has been convicted on five child sex offences. Photo: AAP
Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic, Cardinal George Pell has been convicted on five child sex offences. Photo: AAP

That verdict was made public on Tuesday after months of procedural secrecy, and the abandonment of a second trial over allegations Pell indecently assaulted boys in Ballarat in the 1970s.

Pell has maintained his innocence over all allegations and his lawyer Robert Richter QC told Chief Judge Peter Kidd on Tuesday that he’d filed an application with the Court of Appeal last week against Pell’s conviction.

A suppression order preventing news of the case being published was lifted on Tuesday.

“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,” Judge Kidd said.

One of the victims, now in his 30s, brought the allegations to police after years of having struggled to understand what he’d experienced.

A month or so after he was raped by Pell he was sexually assaulted again, pushed against a cathedral wall by the now-Cardinal who fondled his genitals.

Pell’s other victim died in 2014 in accidental circumstances.

In a statement issued by his lawyer on Tuesday, the surviving victim noted the stressful and ongoing legal process.

“Like many survivors I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle,” he said.

“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.”

The guilty finding, on December 11, came after a first trial ended with a hung jury.

Mr Richter failed to convince the latest jury that the cathedral’s processes were so seamless that two boys simply could not have “nicked off” unseen.

That verdict was made public on Tuesday after months of procedural secrecy. Photo: AAP
That verdict was made public on Tuesday after months of procedural secrecy. Photo: AAP

He argued the allegations were a “far-fetched fantasy”, that Pell was always accompanied after mass and that the cumbersome robes would have prevented him revealing his genitals.

“Only a madman would attempt to rape boys in the priest’s sacristy immediately after Sunday solemn mass,” he told the jury.

Pell, who was physically ailing during the trial and on crutches before a double knee replacement over Christmas, attended court on Tuesday and remains on bail.

He’s due to return to the County Court for a plea hearing on March ahead of sentencing in March, pending developments in the appeal process.

“You’re going to burn in hell. Burn in hell, Pell,” a man yelled at the cardinal as he walked from court.

He’s due to return to the County Court for a plea hearing on February 27. Photo: AAP
He’s due to return to the County Court for a plea hearing on February 27. Photo: AAP

Statement from Cardinal George Pell’s lawyer:

  • Cardinal George Pell has always maintained his innocence and continues to do so.

  • An appeal has been lodged against his conviction and he will await the outcome of the appeal process.

  • Although originally the cardinal faced allegations from a number of complainants, all charges except for those the subject of the appeal have now been either withdrawn, discharged or discontinued.

  • He will not be commenting in the meantime – Paul Galbally, Galbally & O’Bryan Lawyers

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