One of the most powerful men in the Roman Catholic Church was found guilty of multiple historical child sex offenses at a secret trial in Melbourne in December, the existence of which can only now be revealed.
Australian Cardinal George Pell, 77, is almost certain to face prison after a jury found him guilty of one charge of sexual penetration of a child and four charges of an indecent act with or in the presence of a child in the late 1990s.
The conviction of Pell, the Vatican treasurer and a close adviser to Pope Francis, will send shockwaves through the church, which is already reeling from accusations of sexual abuse committed by priests worldwide.
Pell is the most senior Catholic official to be found guilty of child sex offenses to date. His conviction brings the escalating international controversy around the abuse of children in Catholic institutions straight to the doors of the Holy See.
A court order banning media reporting of Pell’s five-week long trial, which began in November 2018, was lifted by Chief Judge Peter Kidd on Tuesday.
The prosecution’s case hinged on the testimony of one man, who said Pell sexually abused him and another boy in Melbourne’s historic St. Patrick’s Cathedral after mass one Sunday.
The second victim later died from a drug overdose having never revealed the abuse to anyone. The surviving accuser can not be identified under Australian law governing sex abuse victims.
In court the accuser told the jury how Pell, then Archbishop of Melbourne, discovered the two choirboys drinking wine in the priest’s sacristy, a small room at the back of the cathedral.
He claimed Pell forced one of the boys to perform oral sex on him and performed an indecent act on his friend. One month later, the victim said Pell pushed him up against a wall and groped his genitals.
Gasps were heard in court after Pell was pronounced guilty of all charges in December.
In a statement Tuesday, Pell’s accuser said he had struggled with “shame, loneliness (and) depression” after the abuse.
“Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life. At some point we realize that we trusted someone we should have feared and we fear those genuine relationships that we should trust,” he said in a public statement from his lawyer.