The Catholic Church found itself embroiled in another major child sex scandal, as Cardinal George Pell, who is the Vatican Treasurer and adviser to Pope Francis, was found guilty of several child sex charges. A secret trial was held in Melbourne in December, where a jury found the 77-year-old Australian Cardinal guilty of “one charge of sexual penetration of a child and four charges of an indecent act with or in the presence of a child.” It is almost guaranteed that Pell will face jail time for his conviction.
Given Pell’s prominent roll in the Catholic Church, as well as his relationship with Pope Francis, this conviction is a major blow to the idea that the church has left its dark past, which has been highlighted in movies like Spotlight and books like In the Closet of the Vatican: Power, Homosexuality, Hypocrisy, in the rearview mirror. While the events that Pell was found guilty of, which include molestation and forcing an underage boy to perform oral sex on him, occurred in the late 90s, the fact that he retained his powerful position is forcing many to question if the Church once again covered up one of their own.
According to Prosecutor Mark Gibson, over 20 years ago, Pell caught two choirboys drinking wine in a room at the back of the cathedral. Pell then exposed his penis and had one of the boys perform oral sex on him. One month later, one of the victims claims Pell forced him against the wall and fondled his genitals.
“I didn’t tell anyone at the time because I didn’t want to jeopardize anything. I didn’t want to rock the boat with my family, my schooling, my life … I had no intention back then of telling anyone ever,” Gibson said, quoting the victim’s testimony.
Up until now, Pell had largely been seen as a highly-respected figure in the Catholic Church. He was ordained as Archbishop of Melbourne by Pope John Paul II in 1996. Then in 2014, Pell was moved to Rome after he was selected by Pope Francis to serve as the Vatican Treasurer, as well as being chosen as one of nine advisers on the Council of Cardinals to the Pope. Following Pell’s conviction, he was removed from the Pope’s circle of advisers due to “reasons of advancing age.”
In 2017, a report was released by the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sex Abuse, which found that seven percent of Australian priests abused children over the course of the last 60 years. In June of the same year, it was announced that the Australian police were charging Pell for “multiple historical sexual offenses.” Pell, who will be sentenced during a hearing in March, has maintained his innocence, calling the charges “the products of fantasy” and “deranged falsehood.”
“What a load of absolute and disgraceful rubbish. Completely false. Madness,” Pell told detectives.
The reason the information surrounding the trial is just reaching the public now is due to a court-ordered media ban, which was lifted this week by Chief Judge Peter Kidd.