One of the most senior Catholic clerics in the world was unanimously found guilty of child sexual assault.
Rabat – An Australian court announced on Tuesday that Australian Vatican treasurer George Pell, 77, was convicted of sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys.
A jury found Pell guilty on one charge of sexual abuse and four counts of an indecent assault against the two boys. The assaults occurred at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in late 1996, a few months after the cathedral church appointed Pell as archbishop of Melbourne.
Pell had cornered the choirboys after a Sunday solemn mass and raped them.
Through trial proceedings, the cleric had remained free on probation while he denied all charges against him.
More than 20 witnesses, including clerics, choristers, and altar servers testified against Pell during trial. The court held a retrial in December during which he was convicted, but the court’s decision went unreported until today.
Pell faces as many as 50 years in prison for the offences. He is currently in custody and his sentencing is due to begin on Wednesday.
One of Pell’s victims—now 34—said in a statement to AFP about the assault: “Like many survivors, I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle. It has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life.”
Speculations about Pell’s “unreported crimes” began to surface in 2013, following the publishing of a report by a task force called Operation Tethering. In 2015, Australian police began investigating Pell.
In December, a few days after the unreported verdict, the Vatican removed Pell and other cardinals from the council of advisers. Pope Francis has yet to break his silence about Pell’s conviction.
Several media reports have suggested that Pell’s verdict may tarnish Pope Francis’s reputation because the pope had previously praised Pell for his “honesty” and appointed him as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in 2014, ignoring the allegations of sexual abuse.
Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Morocco March 30-31 at the request of King Mohammed VI.