GUILTY AS SIN
CONVICTED OF FIVE CHILD SEX CHARGES ABUSED CHOIR BOYS WHILE ARCHBISHOP CARDINAL VOWS TO CLEAR NAME
GEORGE Pell could be jailed as early as today after being convicted of vile sexual offences against young choirboys while he was Archbishop of Melbourne.
Pell was granted at least one final night of freedom last night, after a suppression order banning any reporting of his case was lifted.
But the County Court’s chief judge, Peter Kidd, has flagged re- manding him when he reappears today for a pre-sentence hearing.
Cardinal Pell, 77, is facing the prospect of a significant jail term.
Legal sources say he can expect to spend several years behind bars.
Australia’s most senior Catholic leader looked stunned when, in December, the County Court jury de- livered unanimous guilty verdicts on five charges after a five-week trial.
The jury deliberated for 3½ days before reaching their verdicts.
Pell was bailed following the verdicts so he could have a double-knee replacement in Sydney.
A gag order preventing publication of the convictions was imposed so as not to prejudice a jury to hear further charges against Pell.
It was lifted after prosecutors yesterday dropped those charges.
The Vatican last night described Pell’s convictions as “painful’’ and said: “We repeat that we have maximum respect towards the Australian judicial authorities.’’
But spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said the Vatican would await “the outcome of the appeal process, remembering Cardinal Pell has repeated his innocence and deserves the right to defend himself’’. He said “precautionary measures” already in place on the order of Pope Francis continued to ban Pell from any contact with minors.
Pell’s legal team lodged an appeal last week and today hopes to secure bail in an application listed before the Court of Appeal for 2.30pm.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the verdicts “had affirmed no Australian is above the law”.
He said: “Like most Australians, I am deeply shocked at the crimes of which George Pell has been convicted.
“I respect the fact that this case is under appeal, but it is the victims and their families I am thinking of today, and all who have suffered from sexual abuse by those they should have been able to trust, but couldn’t.”
Melbourne Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli also said his thoughts were with victims.
“Surprised and shaken” by the news, he said: “An appeal against the verdict has been lodged. It is important that we now await the outcome of this appeal, respectful of the legal proceedings.”
Until then, Pell will likely swap the palatial surrounds of the Vatican, which he has called home since 2014, for a cell. Sources say his high profile will see him being kept in lockdown for all but an hour a day.
Pell had been due to face trial on further allegations he indecently assaulted boys at a Ballarat swimming pool in the 1970s. But after Judge Kidd made a ruling excluding evidence prosecutors considered crucial to their case, they dropped those charges yesterday, clearing the way for the gag order to be lifted.
The jury at last year’s trial was under strict instructions not to make Pell a scapegoat for the failings of the Catholic Church in its handling of child sexual abuse.
The jury of eight men and four women that found Pell guilty included a church pastor, a chef, a librarian and a teacher. It was the second jury to deliberate in the case. Another jury was unable to reach a unanimous, or even a majority 11-1, verdict.
By its verdicts, the second jury accepted Pell abused two young choirboys after a Sunday solemn mass inside St Patrick’s Cathedral, after his first mass as archbishop there in 1996.
Only one of the two gave evidence. The other, who had denied being abused by any priest, died several years ago.
The survivor, now in his 30s, said he and his friend had been young sopranos on scholarship at St Kevin’s College, obliged to sing in the cathedral choir.
He said after the mass they ran away during a church procession and made their way to the cathedral’s sacristy.
He said they drank altar wine but were caught by Pell, who indecently assaulted them.
Little is known about the evidence the victim gave in closed court. Applications for a transcript have been refused by the court.
Pell was found guilty of one count of sexual penetration of a child and four indecent act charges. He has vehemently denied any wrongdoing since he was charged last June.
Interviewed by police he forcefully denied allegations against him, and said he would be able to prove the offences alleged were impossible.
An important part of his defence was, as archbishop, he was never left alone inside the Cathedral.
His master of ceremonies, Monsignor Charles Portelli, gave evidence that he escorted Pell from the moment he arrived at the cathedral until the moment he left.
Pell’s high-powered legal team, spearheaded by leading QC Robert Richter, argued it would have been impossible for the choirboys to escape the procession unnoticed.
Mr Richter questioned their ability to gain access to the sacristy, and said had they done so church staff would have spotted them soon after.
Of the then cathedral staff and choirboys who gave evidence, none could corroborate the evidence of the victim, who said he never spoke about the matter with the other boy.
Sources close to the cardinal said his legal team remain stunned by the verdicts.
“The appellate judges have a serious task ahead of them,” a source close to Pell said.
Pell looked stunned as the first guilty verdict was delivered, but remained motionless after that.
The verdicts, which were published widely outside Australia in December, despite the gag order, sent shockwaves around the world.
Cardinal Pell is the most senior official to have been convicted of a sex offence in the Catholic Church’s history.
Sources said Pell, who stood down as Vatican treasurer so he could return to Melbourne to fight the charges, hoped to return to Rome after the trial.
But now it appears his career, already marred by a hard-line conservative stance that made him a divisive figure, has ended in disgrace.