Cardinal George Pell guilty of Melbourne child sex charges

Cardinal George Pell. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images
Cardinal George Pell. Picture: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

AUSTRALIA’S highest-ranking Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, raped one choirboy and molested another.

They were 13-year-olds on scholarships to Melbourne’s prestigious St Kevin’s College.

The pair had “nicked off” after a Sunday solemn mass in late 1996 at St Patrick’s Cathedral and were caught swigging sacramental wine in the sacristy by Pell, newly-installed as the city’s archbishop.

He scolded them, exposed his penis from beneath 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.

The 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.

Senior Crown Prosecutor Fran Dalziel SC announced the discontinuation of two charges against boys aged between nine and 12 after Chief Judge Peter Kidd earlier ruled evidence crucial to their case inadmissible.

Pell maintains complete innocence and his lawyer Robert Richter QC filed an application with the Court of Appeal last week against his conviction.

“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allegations from a number of complainants, all charges except for those the subject of the appeal have now been either withdrawn, discharged or discontinued,” according to Pell’s legal team.

A suppression order preventing publication of the case 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 declared.

One of the victims, now in his 30s, went to police after years of emotional struggle.

About a month after the first incident, he was sexually assaulted by Pell again.

“Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life,” he said in an issued statement describing his shame, lonliness and depression.

“At some point we realise that we trusted someone we should have feared.”

Pell’s other victim died from a heroin overdose in 2014.

His father now plans to sue, alleging Pell has blood on his hands, his lawyer Lisa Flynn said.

Only months before the assaults, Pell launched the Melbourne Response for dealing with abuse claims in the archdiocese.

He claimed an Australian first in developing the world-leading protocol, though it was criticised for re-traumatising victims and low compensation payouts.

The fallout from his conviction began immediately, with Pell sacked from the Pope’s Group of Nine advisers the day after, on December 12.

When the verdict went public on Tuesday alma mater St Patrick’s College, Ballarat removed his name from a building and Richmond Football Club dropped him as vice patron.

A petition is demanding his 2005 appointment as a Companion of the Order of Australia be revoked.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Mark Coleridge said the news came as a shock to many but he hoped justice would eventually be served.

“In the meantime, we pray for all those who have been abused and their loved ones,” he said.

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

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

He argued the allegations were a “far-fetched fantasy”, that Pell was always accompanied after mass and his 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.

He’s been released on bail until a pre-sentence plea hearing on Wednesday at which he’s expected to be taken into custody.

Judge Kidd said Pell’s ongoing bail was not an indication of the sentence he might receive. Mr Richter conceded imprisonment was inevitable.

The historic offences each carry a maximum 10-year sentence.

Insults were thrown from advocates and survivors as Pell walked, expressionless, from court surrounded by police and media toward a gold Mercedes.

“You’re going to burn in hell. Burn in hell, Pell,” a man yelled.

Chief Judge Peter Kidd is due to sentence him in March.