Cardinal George Pell, who is third in seniority after the Pope in the Vatican, has been convicted and sentenced to six years in prison for sexually abusing two choirboys in the late 1990s.
According to the reports, George Pell, who was the former Vatican treasurer, is the most senior Catholic figure ever to be found guilty of sexual offences against children. Pell had abused young choir boys in a Melbourne cathedral in 1996 and 1997. The offences were done at the St Patrick’s Cathedral, months after Pell was inaugurated as archbishop of Melbourne. He had told the boys that they were trouble for drinking communion wine, and forced the boys into indecent acts.
Cardinal Pell, now 77, is an Australian prelate of the Catholic Church. He is also the finance chief at the Vatican and the Holy See in Rome, being appointed as the first Perfect of Secretariat for the Economy which was created in 2014 by the Pope. He is the third most important official in the Vatican after Pope and was believed to be succeeding the incumbent Pope. Pell was found guilty of sexual penetration of a child and four counts of committing an indecent act with a child last December after a secret five-week trial.
On Wednesday, Judge Kidd said Pell’s attack on the victims was “breathtakingly arrogant” adding that the cardinal had assaulted the boys with “callous indifference to the victims’ distress.” But the judge said Pell was “not to be made a scapegoat for any failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church.” While sentencing Pell on Wednesday, judge Kidd said the cleric had committed “a brazen and forcible sexual attack on the two victims”.
In December, a jury unanimously convicted Pell of one charge of sexually penetrating a child under 16, and four counts of committing an indecent act on a child under 16. His conviction has rocked the Catholic Church, where he had been one of the Pope’s closest advisers.
A former senior adviser to Pope Francis, Pell showed no reaction when Chief Judge Peter Kidd handed down his sentence in a hearing broadcast live worldwide on Wednesday from Victoria’s County Court in central Melbourne.
George Pell was charged with historical sexual offences in June last year by Australian police. He took leave of absence from the Vatican to appear for hearings which began on March 5, 2018. The magistrate Belinda Wallington was to determine if there are enough grounds for the Cardinal to stand trial. Majority of the charges have been withdrawn by the prosecution or dismissed during the course of the trial. Some of the charges even date back to the 1970s.
In 2016, in hearings before the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse Cardinal Pell was accused of mishandling cases against clergy members while he was the leader of the Archdioceses of Melbourne and Sydney. The allegations emerged that he himself was involved in abuse since his priesthood days.
Ironically, George Pell was one of the inner circle of nine cardinals chose by Pope Francis to deal with issues such as sexual abuse of children by the clergy, fixing account books and financial reforms. The Pope had declined to remove Cardinal Pell after pressure mounted over the way in which the Church was handling such issues.