WARNING: Disturbing content:
Cardinal George Pell has been found guilty of child sex abuse and is facing a significant jail term after a sensational trial in Melbourne.
The third most powerful man in the Vatican and Australia's most senior Catholic has been found guilty of raping one choirboy and molesting another in Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral 22 years ago.
A jury delivered the unanimous verdict on December 11 in Melbourne's county court, but the result was subject to a suppression order because of a secret second trial involving another two accusers — which has since collapsed — and could not be reported until now.
Chief Judge Peter Kidd said Pell, 77, would be remanded in custody after a pre-sentence hearing on Wednesday. He is facing between 10-14 years jail time and is likely to be sentenced within the next fortnight.
"This is in no way a sign of the sentence Cardinal Pell will face," Judge Kidd said about his decision to grant Pell short reprieve.
Pell, flanked by his minders and police, was accosted by members of the public as he left court using a walking stick, following the verdict this morning.
"You're a monster … burn in hell, Pell" one person yelled.
"You're a disgrace."
Pell's victims were two 13-year-old boys on scholarships to the prestigious St Kevin's College.
The court heard the pair "nicked off" after a Sunday solemn mass in December 1996 and was caught swigging sacramental wine in the sacristy - a room at the rear of the cathedral used by priests to dress - by Pell, who was the newly installed Archbishop of Melbourne.
Pell scolded them and then proceeded to expose his penis from beneath his ceremonial robes before molesting them, the court heard.
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 Pell raped him, he was sexually assaulted by Pell again, when he pushed him against a cathedral wall and fondled his genitalia.
Excerpts of his testimony were read in court by Crown Prosecutor Mark Gibson SC, and can now be published for the first time.
"[Pell] planted himself in the doorway and said something like 'what are you doing here' or 'you're in trouble'," the victim told the jury.
The court heard one of the boys asked: "Can you let us go? We didn't do anything".
But instead, the then-archbishop pulled one of the boys aside and pushed his head down to his penis.
After a few minutes, he turned his attention to the other choirboy, and forced him to perform oral sex before fondling him as he masturbated.
"I put my clothes back on, I corrected myself," the former choirboy told the jury, estimating the ordeal had lasted just minutes.
"We got up and left the room and went back into the choral change room area."
A few months later, the boy was abused by Pell on a second occasion.
Pell's other victim died in 2014 from an "accidental" heroin overdose. He had previously denied being abused by any priest. His father today said Pell "has blood on his hands" and announced the family's plan to sue the cardinal or Catholic Church over his son's death.
The surviving victim, who has requested anonymity, released a statement through his lawyer following today's verdict.
"Like many survivors I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle," he said.
"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 and we fear those genuine relationships that we should trust.
"The process has been stressful and it's not over yet."
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. That verdict was made public today after months of procedural secrecy, and the abandonment of a second trial over allegations Pell indecently assaulted boys in Ballarat in the 1970s. The latter charges were dismissed due to lack of evidence. The Herald Sun reports that the two complainants in the matter have been left devastated by prosecutors' decision not to proceed.
In a statement on behalf of the national body the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Archbishop of Brisbane Mark Coleridge said "the news of Cardinal George Pell's (guilty verdict) 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," he said.
Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli also issued a statement in response to the guilty verdict.
"As is now publicly known, Cardinal George Pell has been found guilty of historical sexual crimes relating to two young people at St Patrick's Cathedral, Melbourne. This follows two trials, the first of which could not reach a verdict."
"While acknowledging the Judgement of the jury, I join many people who have been surprised and shaken by the outcome of the second trial.
"I fully respect the ongoing judicial process, nothing that Cardinal Pell continues to protest his innocence."
MOMENT PELL WAS CONFRONTED
Pell has maintained his innocence over all allegations and has lodged an appeal against the verdict.
Pell's lawyer, Paul Galbally, addressed the crowd outside the court this morning.
"The Cardinal doesn't have any further that he wishes to say." he said.
"However I would like to add: although the Cardinal originally faced allegations from a number of complainants, all of those complaints and allegations — save for the matters that are subject to appeal — have all been either withdrawn or discontinued."
If the appeal fails he will likely be defrocked by Pope Francis.
In a recorded 2016 police interview previously played to jurors, Pell read a prepared statement.
"I have to rely on the law and my conscience, which says that I am innocent, and I have to rely on the integrity of investigators not setting out to make a case but actually searching for the truth," he told detectives from Victoria's taskforce investigating historical child sexual abuse.
"I would earnestly hope that this is done before any decision is made whether to lay charges, because immeasurable damage will be done to me and the church by the mere laying of charges which on proper examination will be later found to be untrue."
Detective Chris Reed then started questioning Pell and alleged that he had exposed his penis to a choirboy after mass.
"Oh, stop it," Pell said.
"What a load of absolute and disgraceful rubbish. Completely false. Madness."
He then invited Detective Reed to "go on … what happened after the mass?".
Reed replied: "It's alleged you stepped forward and grabbed [a boy] by his head and forced his head on to your penis".
Pell again interjected: "Completely false."
"You don't have to comment at this stage," Reed replied. "I can continue on."
Pell: "Please do".
The detective continued to outline the allegations to which Pell responded. "What a load of garbage and falsehood, and deranged falsehood".
He finished the interview by telling Detective Reed he was "certainly not guilty".
"I believe on many, many details I've been able to prove that the charges are false and I believe with more work and information we'll be able to further enhance the strength of those denials," he said.
Top defence barrister Robert Richter QC represented Pell in the trial and during an earlier trial in which the jury was discharged after failing to reach a verdict.
Richter failed to convince the latest jury the cathedral's processes were so seamless that 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 that the cumbersome robes would have prevented him revealing his genitalia.
"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, remains on bail.
THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST
Prosecution — Key arguments: Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd QC, senior crown prosecutor Mark Gibson SC and crown prosecutor Angela Ellis.
● There were opportunities for Cardinal George Pell, newly installed as archbishop of Melbourne, to sexually abuse two choirboys in the late 1990s. Evidence that the boys slipped away unnoticed from the post-mass procession because of "mischief" and were "caught" by Pell while drinking wine in the priest's sacristy — the room in a church where a priest prepares for a service — withstood defence arguments.
● Pell used the priest's sacristy to vest and disrobe during Sunday mass because of renovations that rendered the Archbishop's sacristy unusable. There were times Pell was left alone while still robed. It was still possible for Pell to expose his penis to the boys while robed because of slits in the alb, an under-tunic, which were designed to access pockets.
● Neither victim reported the abuse at the time but that does not mean it didn't happen. Gibson quoted the surviving complainant: it "took a courage much later in life" to even consider speaking out. He feared jeopardising his scholarship to the prestigious St Kevin's College, making things difficult for his parents and struggling to understand what had happened and if it was "normal".
Defence — Key arguments: Barristers Robert Richter QC and Ruth Shann.
● The prosecution timeline relied on 10 "independently impossible" events involving 40 or more people occurring within the same 10-minute window in order for the events to have happened and gone unnoticed. That includes: the two 13-year-old boys slipping away from the middle of the post-mass procession without being seen; Pell being alone and robed in the sacristy and not on the cathedral steps; and there being no other priests or altar servers moving between the sanctuary and priest's sacristy as was their practice after mass.
● It would have been "inhumanly possible" for Pell to expose his penis to the boys while wearing the Archbishop's robes. The ensemble was made up of the alb, an ankle-length white under-tunic which included two slits to allow access to pockets, locked into place around the waist with a knotted rope cincture. A decorative chasuble was worn over top and, on special occasions a dalmatic as well. Pell required help robing and disrobing and Pell's master-of-ceremonies recalled only twice in five years not assisting.
● The surviving complainant's memories aren't of real events, but are a far-fetched fantasy that he, now aged in his 30s, may have come to believe as the truth. Richter pointed to the fact neither victim came forward immediately, that the complainant who has since died denied being abused when asked directly by his parents, and that after the first incident involving both boys the surviving complainant did not warn his friend when he was later abused again.
1996: Pell appointed Archbishop of Melbourne by Pope John Paul II — Pell sexually abuses two 13-year-old choirboys after a Sunday solemn mass at St Patrick's Cathedral — A second indecent act is committed by Pell against one of the choirboys in a corridor at the Cathedral.
2016: The Herald Sun reports Pell is being investigated by Victoria Police's Sano taskforce for "multiple offences" committed while he was a priest in Ballarat and Archbishop of Melbourne — Pell says the allegations are "without foundation and utterly false" and calls for an inquiry into how the police investigation became public — Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton asks the anti-corruption watchdog to investigate the leak, but denies it came from police — Pell gives evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse's inquiry into abuse in Ballarat — Under Vatican rules, Pell gives Pope Francis his resignation on his 75th birthday, as is customary. It is not accepted — Victoria Police investigators hand over to the state's Office of Public Prosecutions a brief of evidence on allegations of sexual abuse by Pell — Officers travel to Rome to interview Pell over the abuse claims. He voluntarily participates in the interview.
2017: Police present their final brief of evidence to the Office of Public Prosecutions to consider charges — Prosecutors give police the green light to charge Pell.
JUNE 2017: Pell is charged with multiple counts of historic child sex offences — He denies the charges and vows to clear his name — Lawyers for Pell appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court — Pell takes leave from his Vatican finance chief role to fight the charges.
JULY 2017: Pell returns to Australia — He hires top barrister Robert Richter QC — Supporters set up a fund to help Pell fight the charges.
MARCH 2018: Prosecutors drop one of the charges against Pell — A month-long committal hearing begins to determine if Pell will face trial — Prosecutors withdraw more charges — Richter claims police conducted a "get Pell operation" and accuses magistrate Belinda Wallington of bias. She refuses to disqualify herself from the case.
MAY 2018: Magistrate Belinda Wallington orders Pell stand trial on some charges, but throws out others — Pell formally pleads "not guilty" — Two trials are ordered, separating the 1970s and 1990s allegations — A Victorian County Court employee is sacked for looking up information on the Pell case.
AUGUST 2018: The 1990s "cathedral trial" begins in the Victorian County Court in Melbourne — Pell pleads not guilty again to one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four of indecent acts with a child, over incidents involving two 13-year-old choirboys at St Patrick's Cathedral in 1996.
SEPTEMBER 2018: The jury is discharged, unable to reach a verdict following a week of deliberation. Some jurors weep.
NOVEMBER 2018: A retrial begins. The jury aren't told of the previous hung jury.
DECEMBER 2018: Pell is found guilty on all charges by an unanimous jury — Richter says Pell will appeal — Suppression orders prevent Australian media reporting the verdict but it spreads through international media within hours.
FEBRUARY 2019: Hearings begin ahead of the second trial. Prosecutors drop another charge — An appeal is filed against the cathedral trial verdict — A County Court judge deems vital evidence inadmissable — Prosecutors withdraw all remaining charges against Pell and drop a second trial over allegations Pell indecently assaulted boys in Ballarat in the 1970s when he was a parish priest — Pell is due to be taken into custody on Wednesday, February 27 as the plea hearing begins.
MARCH 2019: Pell is due to be sentenced by County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd.
Where to get help:
• If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
• If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential crisis helpline Safe to Talk on: 0800 044 334 or text 4334.
• Alternatively contact your local police station
• If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.