Australia’s most senior Catholic George Pell is found guilty

Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic George Pell is found GUILTY of raping a 13-year-old choirboy and molesting another after he caught them drinking sacramental wine

  • Cardinal George Pell has been found guilty of sexually assaulting two choir boys
  • Pell, an Australian cleric, is the Catholic Church’s third most senior clergyman 
  • The 77-year-old is the most senior Catholic to be charged with sexual offences 
  • He is on leave from his position in the Vatican and will appeal the convictions  
  • Court verdict can be revealed after gag order was lifted by a court on Tuesday 
  • Pell limped free from court on bail as person screamed: ‘Burn in hell, Pell’ 

GUILTY: Cardinal George Pell (seen today), the world’s third highest ranking Catholic official, was found guilty of raping a choirboy in the 1990s and molesting another 

Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s highest ranking Catholic, has been found guilty of raping a choirboy in the 1990s and molesting another.  

Pell, 77, is the Vatican’s treasurer and is the most senior Catholic clergyman to be found guilty of child sex offences anywhere in the world.  

He was found guilty of four counts of indecent assault and one count of rape by a Melbourne jury last December, following three days of deliberations. 

The judge presiding over the case has said Pell will be remanded in custody after a pre-sentence hearing on Wednesday. 

It can now be revealed that Pell’s victims were two 13-year-old boys on scholarships to the prestigious St Kevin’s College. 

The pair ‘nicked off’ after a Sunday solemn mass in late 1996 and were caught swigging sacramental wine in the priest’s sacristy by Pell, newly installed as Archbishop of Melbourne.  

‘What are you doing here, you’re in trouble,’ Pell scolded their boys. 

The jury was told Pell exposed his penis from beneath his ornate ceremonial robes, and molested the pair. 

The Pell verdict can finally be revealed after a second trial over allegations Pell indecently assaulted boys in regional Victoria in the 1970s was abandoned. That result meant a gag order preventing the verdict from being published in the Australian media was finally lifted after more than two months.  

Pell had repeatedly and vehemently denied the accusations against him and Pope Francis had granted him a leave of absence to return to Australia to defend himself. He has lodged an appeal of his conviction.

One of the victims, now in his 30s, brought the allegations to police after years of having struggled to understand what he’d experienced.

Pell sexually assaulted two choir boys in a cathedral in Melbourne, Australia, in the late 1990s. He had vehemently denied the incidents happened, but a jury found otherwise

The cardinal was named the Vatican’s Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in 2014, making him the third highest-ranking cleric in Rome. He is pictured with Pope Francis

The boy said he was sexually assaulted again by Pell a month or so after he was raped, recalling that he was pushed against a cathedral wall by the now-Cardinal. 

‘He shoved me against the wall violently and squeezed my genitals,’ the court was told.  

Pell’s other victim died in 2014 in accidental circumstances.

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Top defence barrister Robert Richter QC represented Pell in the trial, and during an earlier trial in which the jury was discharged after failing to reach a verdict. 

Mr Richter failed to convince the latest jury that the cathedral’s processes were so seamless that two boys simply could not have ‘nicked off’ unseen.

He argued the allegations were a ‘far-fetched fantasy’, that Pell was always accompanied after mass and that his cumbersome robes would have prevented him revealing his genitals.

‘Only a madman would attempt to rape boys in the priest’s sacristy immediately after Sunday solemn mass,’ he told the jury.

Pell, who was physically ailing during the trial and on crutches before a double knee replacement over Christmas, remains on bail for the next 24 hours.

But he will be remanded in custody after a pre-sentence hearing on Wednesday. 

Pell limped out of court on Tuesday morning to a media frenzy, with a man screaming out ‘burn in hell, Pell’. 

In a statement, one of Pell’s victims said today: ‘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.

‘At some point we realise that we trusted someone we should have feared and we fear those genuine relationships that we should trust. ‘ 

The jury was told Cardinal Pell scolded the two victims after they ‘nicked off’ from Sunday solemn mass to drink wine. He exposed himself and then molested them, the court was told



Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd QC, senior crown prosecutor Mark Gibson SC and crown prosecutor Angela Ellis told the court: 

* There were opportunities for Cardinal George Pell, newly-installed as Archbishop of Melbourne, to sexually abuse two choirboys in the late 1990s. Evidence that the boys slipped away unnoticed from the post-mass procession because of ‘mischief’ and were ‘caught’ by Pell while drinking wine in the priest’s sacristy, withstood defence arguments.

* Pell used the priest’s sacristy to vest and disrobe during Sunday mass because of renovations which rendered the Archbishop’s sacristy unusable. There were times Pell was left alone while still robed. It was still possible for Pell to expose his penis to the boys while robed because of slits in the alb, an under-tunic, which were designed to access pockets.

* Neither victim reported the abuse at the time but that does not mean it didn’t happen. Mr Gibson quoted the surviving complainant who said it ‘took a courage much later in life’ to even consider speaking out. He feared jeopardising his scholarship to the prestigious St Kevin’s College, making things difficult for his parents and struggled to understand what had happened and if it was ‘normal’.


Barristers Robert Richter QC and Ruth Shann told the court:

* The prosecution timeline relied on 10 ‘independently impossible’ events involving 40 or more people occurring within the same 10-minute window in order for the events to have happened and gone unnoticed. That includes: the two 13-year-old boys slipping away from the middle of the post-mass procession without being seen; Pell being alone and robed in the sacristy and not on the cathedral steps; and there being no other priests or altar servers moving between the sanctuary and priest’s sacristy as was their practice after mass.

* It would have been ‘inhumanly possible’ for Pell to expose his penis to the boys while wearing the Archbishop’s robes. The ensemble was made up of the alb, an ankle-length white under-tunic which included two slits to allow access to pockets, locked into place around the waist with a knotted rope cincture. A decorative chasuble was worn over top and, on special occasions a dalmatic as well. Pell required help robing and disrobing and Pell’s master-of-ceremonies recalled only twice in five years not assisting.

* The surviving complainant’s memories aren’t of real events, but are a far-fetched fantasy that he, now aged in his 30s, may have come to believe as the truth. Mr Richter pointed to the fact neither victim came forward immediately, that the complainant who has since died denied being abused when asked directly by his parents, and that after the first incident involving both boys the surviving complainant did not warn his friend when he was later abused again.


He will return to the County Court for a plea hearing on February 27. Chief Judge Peter Kidd is due to sentence him in March.     

The victims, both students at St Kevin’s College in Toorak, an inner suburb of Melbourne, were both in the choir at St Patrick’s Cathedral. 

The abuse took place after Pell introduced a compensation scheme for clerical sexual abuse victims known in Australia as the ‘Melbourne Response’, which he established in 1996.

Pell’s appearances at court have been accompanied by enormous crowds of media and lines of police officers

An earlier trial resulted in a hung jury in June but the case was heard again in the County Court of Victoria resulting in the guilty verdicts.

The cardinal was committed to stand trial in May when a magistrate dismissed other charges.

Pell was removed from Pope Francis’s inner circle of nine clergymen, the Council of Cardinals, following the verdict in December. 

Australian media could not explain why Pell had been dumped at the time.  

He remained as the Vatican’s treasurer, having been granted a leave of absence by Pope Francis. 

The Holy See has not commented on whether he will remain in the position during his appeal. 


Australian media outlets were banned from reporting Cardinal George Pell had been found guilty under the terms of a court suppression order.

The order banned newspapers, TV stations and online news outlets like Daily Mail Australia from reporting the jury verdict last December. 

The suppression order was approved by the court to ‘prevent a real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice’.

That risk was a second trial Pell was facing relating to allegations of sexual abuse, which has since been abandoned. 

The court order failed to stop media outlets worldwide, from the Washington Post to the BBC, from reporting on the Pell news outside Australia.

Local news outlets could only tease that there was an ‘incredible story’ about a ‘prominent Australian’ that could not be printed.  

Victoria, the state where the suppression order was granted, is considered the gag order capital of Australia.  

The judge who heard Cardinal George Pell’s case has continued a gag order on details of the cardinal’s trial and guilty verdicts being published in his homeland. He is pictured in Rome

Pell is the most senior Catholic clergyman to face trial over sexual offences anywhere in the world. He has been ailing in recent months

Pell has surrendered his passport as part of his bail conditions and is not permitted to leave Australia.

The cardinal was named the Vatican’s Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in 2014, making him the third highest-ranking cleric in Rome. 

Before being called to the Vatican, Pell served as Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 to 2014 and was Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001.

He was ordained in 1966 and made a cardinal in 2003.

Victorian police charged Pell with the sexual assault offences in June last year when he was in Rome.

Pell, who was represented by attorney Robert Richter, QC, stated at a press conference at the time he would return to Australia to answer the charges and he was ‘looking forward, finally, to having my day in court’.

‘I’m innocent of those charges,’ he said at the time. ‘They are false.’ 

‘I’m looking forward, finally, to having my day in court,’ George Pell said in June last year. ‘I’m innocent of those charges. They are false.’ He is pictured at court in Melbourne on Tuesday



– Pell appointed Archbishop of Melbourne by Pope John Paul II

– Pell sexually abuses two 13-year-old choirboys after a Sunday solemn mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral

– A second indecent act is committed by Pell against one of the choirboys in a corridor at the Cathedral.


– The Herald Sun reports Pell is being investigated by Victoria Police’s Sano taskforce for ‘multiple offences’ committed while he was a priest in Ballarat and Archbishop of Melbourne

– Pell says the allegations are ‘without foundation and utterly false’ and calls for an inquiry into how the police investigation became public

– Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton asks the anti-corruption watchdog to investigate the leak, but denies it came from police

Cardinal George Pell, 77, is known as the Vatican’s treasurer and had been granted a leave of absence while facing trial over child sex offences in Australia. He has surrendered his passport

– Pell gives evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s inquiry into abuse in Ballarat

– Under Vatican rules, Pell gives Pope Francis his resignation on his 75th birthday, as is customary. It is not accepted

– Victoria Police investigators hand over to the state’s Office of Public Prosecutions a brief of evidence on allegations of sexual abuse by Pell

– Officers travel to Rome to interview Pell over the abuse claims. He voluntarily participates in the interview.


– Police present their final brief of evidence to the Office of Public Prosecutions to consider charges

– Prosecutors give police the green light to charge Pell.

JUNE 2017

– Pell is charged with multiple counts of historic child sex offences

– He denies the charges and vows to clear his name

– Lawyers for Pell appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court

– Pell takes leave from his Vatican finance chief role to fight the charges.

JULY 2017

– Pell returns to Australia

– He hires top barrister Robert Richter QC

– Supporters set up a fund to help Pell fight the charges.

MARCH 2018

– Prosecutors drop one of the charges against Pell

– A month-long committal hearing begins to determine if Pell will face trial

– Prosecutors withdraw more charges

– Mr Richter claims police conducted a ‘get Pell operation’ and accuses magistrate Belinda Wallington of bias. She refuses to disqualify herself from the case.

MAY 2018

– Magistrate Belinda Wallington orders Pell stand trial on some charges, but throws out others

– Pell formally pleads ‘not guilty’

– Two trials are ordered, separating the 1970s and 1990s allegations

– A Victorian County Court employee is sacked for looking up information on the Pell case.


– The 1990s ‘cathedral trial’ begins in the Victorian County Court in Melbourne

– Pell pleads not guilty again to one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four of indecent acts with a child, over incidents involving two 13-year-old choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.


– The jury is discharged, unable to reach a verdict following a week of deliberation. Some jurors weep.


– A retrial begins. The jury aren’t told of the previous hung jury.


– Pell is found guilty on all charges by an unanimous jury

– Mr Richter says Pell will appeal

– Suppression orders prevent Australian media reporting the verdict but it spreads through international media within hours.


– Hearings begin ahead of the second trial. Prosecutors drop another charge

– An appeal is filed against the cathedral trial conviction

– A County Court judge deems vital evidence inadmissible

– Prosecutors withdraw all remaining charges against Pell and drop a second trial over allegations Pell indecently assaulted boys in Ballarat in the 1970s when he was a parish priest

– Pell is due to be taken into custody on Wednesday February 27 as the plea hearing begins.

MARCH 2019

– Pell is due to be sentenced by County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd.

Australian Associated Press 





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