Vatican to open own probe into accusations against Pell

Friday, 01 Mar, 2019

Australia's Cardinal George Pell, a former top adviser to Catholic Pope Francis, was remanded into custody on Wednesday after a sentence plea hearing on his conviction for sexually abusing two choirboys more than two decades ago.

In a verdict revealed this week after the lifting of a suppression order, Pell was found guilty in December of orally raping a 13-year-old choirboy and molesting another after Sunday mass at St Patrick's Cathedral in East Melbourne in 1996.

Gisotti also said Pell's five-year term as Vatican economy minister had expired on Feb 24, and later tweeted that he was "no longer the Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy".

The public conviction seems to be an embarrassing result for the Vatican and Pope Francis, coming just two days after a major meeting over how better to handle the abuse of children by clergy. At that trial, and after Pell's defense demonstrated that it was physically impossible for the crimes with which he was charged to have occurred, a jury voted 10-2 to acquit him; but that meant a hung jury (several of whose members wept as their verdict was read), and the Crown made a decision to proceed with a re-trial.

Pell faced an abusive crowd Wednesday as he entered court half an hour before his sentencing hearing began.

This photo illustration shows the front pages of Australia's major newspapers reporting the conviction of Cardinal George Pell in Sydney on February 27, 2019.

Pell was convicted on the evidence of one of his two victims.

On December 14, three days after Pell was found guilty and a media suppression order put in place to hide his identity, a wooden panel was placed in front of his statue and a security guard manned the area.

Richter had told the jury during the trial that "only a mad man" would take the risk of sexually abusing two boys in a cathedral room with the door open and people likely to wander in.

Pell's lawyers will argue that the verdict was unreasonable, in what is a "fairly standard ground of appeal", said Matthew Collins, the president of the peak body for barristers, the Victorian Bar association.

"As a church we - and I say we because I'm part of the church - need to do more", said Crowley.

The Pell case comes as the worldwide Catholic Church is still reeling from abuse scandals in other countries including the United States, Chile, Ireland and Germany, among others. "I need space and time to cope with the ongoing criminal process".

Mr Gibson said Pell had displayed a "degree of callous indifference" by continuing his attack on the boys despite their protests.

The father of one of his victims - a former choir boy who died of a heroin overdose - has indicated he plans to sue the church, the ABC reported. But the bail application was later withdrawn, and no date has been set for an appeal hearing. "Like many survivors, it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life".

But Judge Kidd pushed back, saying Pell had engaged in shocking conduct that allowed no "innocent explanation".

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".

It continued: "In the meantime, 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".