MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The most senior Catholic cleric ever charged with child sex abuse has been convicted of molesting two moments after celebrating Mass, dealing a new blow to the Catholic hierarchy’s credibility after a year of global revelations of abuse and cover-up.
Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ top financial adviser and the Vatican’s Economy Minister, bowed his head but then regained his composure as the 12-member jury delivered unanimous verdicts in the Victoria state County Court on December 11 after more than two days of deliberation.
The court had until yesterday forbidden publication of any details about the trial.
Pell faces a potential maximum 50-year prison term after a sentencing hearing that began last Wednesday. He lodged an appeal last week of the convictions.
Details of the trial had been suppressed because until yesterday, Pell had faced a second trial in April on charges that he indecently assaulted two boys aged nine or 10 and 11 or 12 as a young priest in the late 1970s in a public pool in his hometown of Ballarat.
Prosecutor Fran Dalziel told the court yesterday that the Ballarat charges had been dropped and asked for the suppression order to be lifted.
The move came days after a judge ruled out two key prosecution witnesses in the Ballarat case.
The victim who testified at Pell’s trial said after the conviction was revealed that he has experienced “shame, loneliness, depression and struggle”.
In his statement, the man said it had taken him years to understand the impact the assault had on his life.
Lawyer Lisa Flynn said the father of the second victim, who died of a heroin overdose in 2014 at the age of 31, is planning to sue the church or Pell individually once the appeal is resolved.
Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, initially wanted details of the trial suppressed until his appeal was heard, but later withdraw the application.