The former third most powerful Vatican official and Australia's most senior Catholic official, Cardinal George Pell, has been found guilty of child sexual abuse in a Melbourne trial.
The verdict was delivered on December 11 but subject to a suppression order until now, while a previous trial on the same five charges resulted in a hung jury - leading to a retrial.
Pell, the Vatican's Treasurer, was found guilty of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16, along with four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16, according to The Guardian. Pell is accused of orally raping two choir boys he caught drinking sacramental wine in a church corridor.
The case against Pell centred around events of more than 22 years ago.
The jury found that in the second half of December 1996, while he was archbishop of Melbourne, Pell walked in on two 13-year-old choirboys after a Sunday solemn mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral and sexually assaulted them.
After leaving the procession, the complainant said, he and the other boy snuck back into the church corridors and entered the priest’s sacristy, a place they knew they should not be. There they found some sacramental wine and began to drink. The complainant alleged that Pell had walked in on them and told them something to the effect of they were in trouble.
Pell manoeuvred his robes to expose his penis. He stepped forward, grabbed the other boy by the back of his head, and forced the boy’s head on to his penis, the complainant told the court. -The Guardian
In another incident, Pell's accuser said that later in 1996 or 1997 Pell attacked him again while he was walking down the hallway to a choristers' change room.
Pell pleaded not guilty to the charges, calling them "a load of garbage and falsehood" in a recorded interview from October 2016.
His sentence will be handed down on Wednesday, as Pell has been out on bail since the verdict and is currently recovering from knee surgery.
Pope Francis, who has previously praised Pell for his honesty and response to child sexual abuse, has yet to publicly react, but just two days after the unreported verdict in December the Vatican announced that Pell and two other cardinals had been removed from the pontiff’s council of advisers.
Pell’s conviction and likely imprisonment will cause shockwaves through a global Catholic congregation and is a blow to Francis’s efforts to get a grip on sexual abuse. -The Guardian
Word of Pell's conviction comes days after a Vatican summit on sexual abuse during which Germany's top cardinal, Reinhard Marx, admitted while talking about thet Catholic church's decades of sexual misconduct; "The files that documented these horrible acts and could name those responsible were destroyed or not created at all."
Before Pell returned to Australia to face charges he had been working for three years as prefect of the secretariat for the economy of the Holy See, "making him one of the most senior Catholics in the world," according to the Guardian. Pell was considered one of Pope Francis's most trusted advisers - handpicked to oversee the Vatican's finances and root out corruption.
Pell stood silent and emotionless as the verdict was read following the trial which lasted for more than a month. His defense attorney, Robert Richter QC, said that he would "absolutely" appeal the decision.