Tuesday 19 March 2019

'Burn in Hell, Pell' - survivor attacks cardinal guilty of sex assault on boys

Former adviser to Pope Francis appeals conviction

On trial: Cardinal George Pell – once the third most powerful man in the Vatican and Australia’s most senior Catholic – arrives at the County Court in Melbourne yesterday. Photo: Michael Dodge/Getty Images
On trial: Cardinal George Pell – once the third most powerful man in the Vatican and Australia’s most senior Catholic – arrives at the County Court in Melbourne yesterday. Photo: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

Sonali Paul and Philip Pullella in Melbourne

An Australian court has found Cardinal George Pell - one of the highest ranking Vatican officials and formerly a leading adviser to Pope Francis - guilty on five charges of child sexual offences committed more than two decades ago against 13-year-old boys.

The verdict was made public following the lifting of a court suppression order after a second abuse case against Pell - the most senior Catholic clergyman to be convicted for child sex offences - was dropped by the prosecution.

Pell's lawyers have said they will appeal against the verdict, which embarrassed the Vatican because it became public just two days after a major conference on preventing sex abuse. He had pleaded not guilty to all five charges.

In the Vatican's first response, spokesman Alessandro Gisotti told reporters the conviction was "painful" for many but the cardinal had proclaimed his innocence and had the right to "defend himself until last level" of judicial process.

A jury in Melbourne found Pell guilty on December 11 last year following a four-week trial.

He was convicted of offences committed against two choir boys 22 years earlier in the priests' sacristy of St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne, where Pell was archbishop. One victim died in 2014.

‘Painful’: Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli
‘Painful’: Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti. Photo: REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Each of the offences carries a maximum 10 years' imprisonment. Pell's lawyers have filed an appeal on three grounds, which if successful could lead to a retrial.

"Cardinal Pell has always maintained his innocence and continues to do so," his lawyer Paul Galbally said outside court. Pell, who remains on bail, left the court yesterday without speaking to reporters, who surrounded him as he walked from the courthouse steps to a waiting car.

A child abuse survivor who identified himself as Michael Advocate, as his real name is suppressed under Australian law, shouted to Pell: "Burn in Hell."

Pell is due to return to court today for the start of his sentencing hearing.

Mr Gisotti disclosed hitherto unpublished restrictions that Australian Church leaders had imposed on Pell when the cardinal returned to his native country in June 2017 to defend himself.

He said Pope Francis "confirmed" measures prohibiting Pell from practising his ministry in public and from having contact with minors "in any way or form".

The verdict has been made public as the Church tries to deal with a growing child sexual abuse crisis, following scandals in the United States, Chile, Germany and Australia.

The Pope ended the conference on sexual abuse on Sunday by calling for an "all out battle" against a crime that should be "erased from the face of the Earth".

The Vatican said in December that Francis had removed Pell (77) from his group of close advisers, without commenting on the trial.

Mr Gisotti said Pell's five-year term as economy minister for the Vatican had expired on February 24 but would not say if Pell was still technically in the position pending the naming of a successor.

The cardinal took indefinite leave when he returned to Australia to fight the charges, and the department has been run by someone else.

Pell was not called to the stand during the trial. A video recording of an interview that Australian police held with Pell in Rome in October 2016, in which he strenuously denied the allegations, was shown in open court.

The jury also saw a video of the surviving victim's testimony behind closed doors.

The victim, who was a schoolboy when abused by Pell, on Tuesday asked for his privacy to be respected.

"Like many survivors I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle. Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life," he said in an emailed statement.

"The process has been stressful and it is not over yet. I need space and time to cope with the ongoing criminal process."

Mark Coleridge, the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, who attended the Vatican conference, said the conviction "has shocked many across Australia and around the world".

"We pray for all those who have been abused and their loved ones, and we commit ourselves anew to doing everything possible to ensure that the Church is a safe place for all, especially the young and the vulnerable," he said.

Irish Independent

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