An Australian court has found Cardinal George Pell guilty on five charges related to the sexual abuse of two 13-year-old boys; sentencing is expected in early March, but the cardinal’s lawyer already has announced plans to appeal the conviction.
The jury’s verdict that Cardinal Pell, shortly after being named archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, sexually assaulted the two boys was handed down in December, but the court demanded the verdict and details about it not be reported until after a second trial on allegations that he abused several boys in the 1970s.
The verdict came after a five-week retrial, after a jury in an earlier trial failed to reach a unanimous verdict. In October 2018, multiple sources said that the first trial had ended with the jury deadlocked 10-2 in favour of Cardinal Pell.
The defence’s legal team produced records that showed that during the period between August and December 1996, when the abuse was alleged to have taken place, Pell only celebrated the cathedral’s 10.30am Sunday Mass twice.
The court also heard witness testimony that Pell had been with guests immediately following Mass on one of the two Sundays.
The second jury took three days to find Cardinal Pell guilty of sexually abusing two choristers in the Melbourne cathedral sacristy on an unspecified date in the second half of 1996.
The judge lifted the reporting ban on February 26 after prosecutors announced they would not proceed with the second trial against the 77-year-old cardinal.
While professing his innocence, Cardinal Pell took a leave of absence from his post as prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy in June 2017 to return to Australia to face the charges.
His first trial in Melbourne ended without a verdict in September.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, president of the Australian bishops’ conference, said in a statement on February 26 that “the news of Cardinal George Pell’s conviction on historical child sexual abuse charges has shocked many across Australia and around the world, including the Catholic bishops of Australia”.
“The bishops agree that everyone should be equal under the law, and we respect the Australian legal system,” the archbishop said. “The same legal system that delivered the verdict will consider the appeal that the cardinal’s legal team has lodged.”
“Our hope, at all times, is that through this process, justice will be served,” he said. “In the meantime, we pray for all those who have been abused and their loved ones, and we commit ourselves anew to doing everything possible to ensure that the Church is a safe place for all, especially the young and the vulnerable.”