We can finally tell you: George Pell convicted

Caption: Catholic Cardinal George Pell leaves the Melbourne’s County Court.

Australia?s worst-kept secret is finally out. For months, everyone has known about, but have not been able to talk about it. The legally correct, but practically futile, suppression order has finally been lifted. Quote:

Cardinal George Pell has become the world?s most senior Catholic official to be convicted of child sexual abuse after a jury found him guilty of abusing two choirboys at a Melbourne cathedral just months into his appointment as Archbishop in 1996.

A judge in the County Court of Victoria today lifted a suppression order on the reporting of Pell?s sexual abuse trials, after prosecutors dropped a set charges against him related to the alleged indecent assault of boys at the Eureka swimming pool in Ballarat in the 1970s. End of quote.

The chase after Pell (a divisive and often abrasive personality who has made a lot of public enemies) has been a long one, but prosecutors got third-time lucky. One trial was dropped, and the other resulted in a hung jury, requiring a retrial. The conviction now goes to appeal. Quote:

Pell was tried twice over allegations of abusing choirboys at Melbourne?s St Patrick?s Cathedral in the 1990s. The first trial in August resulted in a hung jury. At a second trial in December he was convicted of one count of sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16 and four counts of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16.

Pell?s lawyer Paul Galbally said today that an appeal had been lodged. End of quote.

It remains to be seen how the appeal goes. A conviction (for allegedly covering up abuse) against another senior churchman, Archbishop Philip Wilson, was recently overturned on appeal. As the first hung jury also attests, the case against Pell is a difficult one involving a single accuser with no other witnesses, and a chorus of circumstantial witnesses who attested that the incident could not possibly have taken place as described. Quote:

Only one victim gave evidence against Pell, the other had died four years earlier. The surviving victim gave evidence in closed court with media and the public unable to attend, in accordance with Victorian laws that allow for a closed court in order to avoid causing undue distress or embarrassment in sexual assault case?While the charges related to two victims, one of the choirboys died before making a complaint to police. End of quote.

That victim had flatly denied to his mother, before he died, that he had been abused. Quote:

Pell did not give evidence in his defence during the trial.

Pell did not give evidence in his defence during the trial?A key issue at the trial was whether two choirboys could have left the procession after mass without being noticed. The court heard conflicting evidence on this topic from former choirboys and adults.

Organist Geoffrey Cox told the court former brother and choirmaster Peter Finnigan kept a watchful eye on the choristers after mass?Mr Finnegan said it would be unlikely for any boys to sneak away from the procession but conceded if the boys did manage to sneak away unnoticed he wouldn?t necessarily know. End of quote.

Like so many sexual assault cases, there are naturally only two witnesses to the incident, one of whom ? also naturally ? strenuously denies it took place. So, it becomes a matter of ?he-said-she-said? and circumstantial evidence. Quote:

Another key issue was whether Pell could have exposed himself to the boys while dressed in his ceremonial robes?Sacristan Max Potter said Pell would never wear the Alb on its own, but under a decorative chasuble (a ceremonial outer garment) or a Dalmatic (a long wide-sleeved ceremonial tunic) on particularly solemn occasions?He said it would be ?inhumanly possible? for Pell to have moved the robes to expose himself.

Monsignor Charles Portelli, then Father Portelli and Pell?s Master of Ceremonies also disagreed with the prosecutor?s suggestions Pell could have exposed his penis through the alb?

[Pell?s barrister Robert ] Richter claimed 10 ?independently impossible? events would have to have occurred within the same 10-minute window in order for the offending to have happened and gone unnoticed.

His list included that 40 or more people would have to not notice the two boys slip away from a post-mass procession, that Pell must have been alone and robed in the sacristy and that no other priests or altar servers were moving between the sanctuary and the priest?s sacristy as was their practice after mass. End of quote.


I?m certainly no fan of Pell, who seems a fundamentally dislikeable and certainly divisive personality. Pell made himself a prize scalp for many prominent people, from lefty pop stars to coppers.

So will Pell?s appeal succeed? It?s certainly possible, of course. No doubt police will also throw everything they can into keeping their prize. Even if he is eventually freed, the damage to Pell is terminal. If the conviction stands, then that?s all he deserves.