In the priest’s sacristy of Melbourne’s imposing St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996, then newly-installed as Archbishop of Melbourne, Pell sexually molested a 13-year-old choirboy.
Exposed and pleasuring himself and still dressed in his ornate ceremonial robes, fresh from presiding over Sunday solemn mass, Pell then raped and abused the boy’s 13-year-old friend.
Pell has always denied the claims, calling them a “product of fantasy” and “absolute rubbish” when interviewed by police in Rome three years ago.
But after a month-long trial and three delays of deliberations, a jury unanimously convicted Pell in December.
The verdict has been suppressed until now for legal reasons.
Physically ailing, the cardinal has been free on bail.
But tomorrow the man who rose to become Australia’s highest-ranked Catholic, the Vatican’s No.3 man and a trusted adviser to the Pope, will be taken into custody.
Pell is the world’s most senior Catholic to be charged with or found guilty of child sex offences.
He stood down from his position as Vatican treasurer to fight the charges and his membership of the Group of Nine Cardinals was suspended by Pope Francis in December.
Pell will be sentenced next month on one charge of sexually penetrating a child and four counts of committing indecent acts with children.
An appeal has already been lodged and Pell continues to maintain his innocence.
Only one of Pell’s victims gave evidence at the trial. He knows the verdict and will hear Pell’s punishment when it’s handed down by County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd.
The other died of a heroin overdose in 2014 having never admitted the abuse he suffered, not even to his parents when they asked if he’d been a victim.
But his absence didn’t matter to the jury who believed the prosecution’s case and his friend’s evidence that the abuse was not the “far-fetched fantasy” Pell’s legal team claimed.
Jurors accepted the memories of the surviving choirboy, now in his 30s, about the awful minutes that followed that mass a week or two before Christmas.
The boys, both on scholarships to the prestigious St Kevin’s College, had been “caught” by Pell swigging sacramental wine in the priest’s sacristy after sneaking away from the post-mass procession.
Pell planted himself in the doorway and scolded them. He then undid his pants and pulled his penis from under his ceremonial robes.
The court was closed for the survivor’s evidence of the events that followed – his recollection of standing frozen, watching his friend “squirm” as his head was pulled toward Pell’s genitals.
“Then he turned to me,” he said, in evidence quoted later by Senior Crown Prosecutor Mark Gibson SC.
The survivor recalled Pell orally raping him and demanding he then remove his pants, which he did.
Pell fondled the boy’s genitals while masturbating himself. The teen put his pants back on and together the boys rejoined their choir.
Afraid of jeopardising his schooling and not understanding what had happened or “if it was normal”, the survivor didn’t say a word for years.
Not even when, a month or so later, Pell shoved him against a wall in a cathedral corridor and fondled his genitals.
“It’s something I’ve carried for the whole of my life… it took a courage much later in life for me to even think about coming forward,” he told the jury.
Pell’s high-profile barrister Robert Richter QC told the jury Pell had returned voluntarily from Rome – where he had diplomatic immunity – to clear his name.
He made the same point months earlier in a first trial that ended with jurors discharged, some sobbing, after being unable to reach a unanimous verdict.
In a move rarely – if ever – seen in a Victorian court, Richter used a slideshow to lay out the defence case in his closing remarks.
It relied largely on the claim that 10 “independently impossible” events would have to have occurred in the same 10-minute window for the abuse to have occurred unseen.
He had wanted to use a graphic – compared by prosecutors to the Pacman game – to demonstrate his point but permission was denied.
Instead he relied on dot points and bold quotes.
“Only a madman would attempt to rape boys in the priest’s sacristy immediately after Sunday solemn mass,” he declared, with the words projected in big, bold letters on a screen behind him.
Victoria’s Court of Appeal will decide if the jury’s verdict stands.
In the meantime the Catholic Church, tainted by a child sexual abuse scandal in archdiocese worldwide, must deal with its advent at the highest levels of the Holy See.
FROM ALLEGATIONS TO CONVICTION: A TIMELINE OF THE PELL CASE
– 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, according to a jury finding made public today
– A second indecent act is committed by Pell against one of the choirboys in a corridor at the Cathedral, according to a jury finding
– 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.
– 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.
– 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.
– Pell returns to Australia
– He hires top barrister Robert Richter QC
– Supporters set up a fund to help Pell fight the charges.
– 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.
– 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.
– 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.
– The jury is discharged, unable to reach a verdict following a week of deliberation. Some jurors weep.
– A retrial begins. The jury aren’t told of the previous hung jury.
– 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.
– Hearings begin ahead of the second trial. Prosecutors drop another charge
– An appeal is filed against the cathedral trial conviction
– A County Court judge deems vital evidence inadmissible
– 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.
– Pell is due to be sentenced by County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd.
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