Cardinal George Pell, the senior-most Catholic in Australia and the third senior-most in the Vatican, was found guilty of sexually abusing two boys in 1996 and 1997, months after he was made the archbishop of Melbourne. While the judgment was passed on December 11 by an Australian Court, due to a gag order, it couldn't be reported about till now.
Pell is said to be the senior most member of the clergy to be convicted of sexual assault.
Found guilty on five charges, Pell is charged for sexually penetrating a child under 16. The other four charges include indecent acts with a child under 16. Pell will be formally sentenced next week but is said to be taken into judicial custody this week at a plea hearing.
The 77-year-old Cardinal is currently on leave from his role as the Vatican's treasurer. He was out on bail since the verdict on December 11 to recover from knee surgery.
During a hearing for the similar five charges, a hung jury prompted a retrial which took place in December. The jury deliberated for two days before passing the verdict. The Cardinal could potentially be facing a 50-year prison sentence.
There is only one complainant since the other boy died in a heroin overdose in 2014.
A report by The Washington Post states that Pell had encountered his two victims after a Sunday Holy Mass drinking the sacramental wine. He exposed himself to them and pushed his penis into one boy's mouth and orally raped him and then forced the other boy's mouth also on his penis. He then ordered the complainant to remove his clothes, fondled the complainant's genitalia while masturbating. The victims then put on their clothes and went home.
The complainant added that he was again assaulted by the Cardinal in either late 1996 or early 1997. The complainant was walking down a hallway after Sunday Mass when the Cardinal pushed him against the wall and squeezed his genitalia.
This news has come out during a time when many clergymen across the world have been called up for sexual abuse. Pope Francis, for whom Pell is a trusted advisor, time and again said that members of the church who indulge in sexual abuse would be punished.
Following the accusations, Pell was removed from the pontiff's council of advisors just two days after the unofficial verdict came out in December. Ironically, this was just after Pope Francis publicly praised Pell for his honesty and outspokenness against sexual abuse.
On Wednesday, Chief Judge Peter Kidd, who also heard his case in August will hear evidence for his sentence. In December, Kidd along with Pell's lawyer urged the eight-member jury to consider Pell's situation and asked them to not punish the Cardinal.
"You must not scapegoat Cardinal Pell," Kidd was quoted as saying by Time.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said that Australia was shocked by the situation. According to The Guardian, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the president of the conference said, "The bishops agree that everyone should be equal under the law, and we respect the Australian legal system. The same legal system that delivered the verdict will consider the appeal that the Cardinal's legal team has lodged."
He added, "Our hope, at all times, is that through this process, justice will be served."