Pope’s close aide guilty of sex assault in Australia

Cardinal George Pell has been found guilty by an Australian court of sexually assaulting two choirboys in the 1990s, making him the most senior Catholic priest to be convicted

Australian Cardinal George Pell
Australian Cardinal George Pell

Australia Cardinal George Pell has become the most senior churchman to be convicted of sexual abuse after a court found him guilty of abusing two choirboys some 22 years ago.

The decision was taken on 11 December but could only be communicated publicly on court order today.

Pell was one of Pope Francis’s closest advisors and was a member of the so-called C9 council, a group of advisors to the Pope, before being dropped the day after his conviction on 11 December.

The cardinal had also been appointed by Pope Francis to manage the Vatican finances in 2014.

Pell, now aged 77, was accused of cornering the boys - then aged 12 and 13 - in the sacristy of Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Melbournefollowing Sunday mass and forcing them to perform a sex act on him.

The cleric, who has remained free on bail, denied all the charges and an initial trial ended with a hung jury in September, but he was convicted on retrial on 11 December.

A wide-ranging suppression order from the presiding judge had prevented the media from reporting even the existence of court proceedings and the ensuing trials since May.

Pell continued to maintain his innocence and is expected to appeal the judgment.

The conviction comes at a crucial junction for the Catholic church, just days after the Pope convened a high-profile bishops’ meeting in Rome to tackle priestly sexual abuse.

Dubbed as a summit on the protection of minors, Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna was part of the organising committee.

Pell’s conviction comes as another blow to the church’s moral authority after the institution has, for years, been wrecked by accusations of sex abuse and subsequent cover ups by bishops.

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