“May you rot in hell, you monster” someone shouted at Cardinal George Pell as he left Melbourne magistrates court. Today the world learned that Pell the former Vatican treasurer, Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic official and the third most senior Catholic in the world, is convicted of sexually abusing two choirboys.
Pell has been followed by allegations and rumours about historic sex crimes for years — the crimes of which he was convicted date back to 1996 and 1997, but there are accusations going back to the 1970s and 1960s. He was convicted on December 11 2018. Here’s what happened, and how we got here.
In June 2002, Pell was accused by a Melbourne man of having sexually abused him as a 12-year-old at a Catholic youth camp in 1961. Pell denied the accusations. The accuser had agreed to pursue his allegations through the National Committee for Professional Standards, the church’s internal process for dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct. The commissioner appointed by the church to investigate the matter found that the complainant man appeared to be “speaking honestly from actual recollection” but said there was “valid criticism of the complainant’s credibility” (the complainant had a criminal record), a “lack of corroborative evidence” and concluded “I find I am not ‘satisfied that the complaint has been established'”.
At the time, Pell said he had been exonerated.
2013 – 2016
In March 2013, Victorian police initiated “Operation Tethering” investigating potential unreported crimes Pell might have committed. By 2016 it was being reported that the SANO Taskforce — established alongside the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Abuse to investigate “historic and new allegations” — was investigating allegations that Pell had sexually abused between five and ten boys between 1978 and 2001. In July 2016, police confirmed there was an investigation.
Meanwhile, the commission continued. Pell refused to return to Australia to face the commission in person, claiming ill-health.
On June 29, Pell was charged with several counts of child sex abuse concerning several victims. Pell announced that he was “looking forward, finally, to having my day in court” and returned to Australia. The court imposed a strict suppression order over proceedings and ABC journalist Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal: the Rise and Fall of George Pell was voluntarily removed from Victorian bookstores
On July 26, 2017 Crikey attended the filing hearing, clogged with other media — the suppression orders rendered proceedings faintly surreal; interviews with survivors and their advocates, not a word of which could be used, the commentary limited to specific phrases repeated by every reporter: “… multiple allegations …” “… strenuously denies” “… the highest-ranking Catholic to have had charges brought against him …”
On December 11, Pell was found guilty in the first of two trials. The verdict was strictly suppressed in the media due to Pell’s second trial on separate charges. This concerned allegations he molested boys in a Ballarat pool in the 1970s. The court believed media reporting of the first trial could deny Pell a fair second trial.
Judge Peter Kidd concluded there were issues with the evidence upon which the second trial based. Now that it won’t go ahead, the court has lifted the suppression order and Pell’s legal team have dropped their opposition to this.
Only one of the two victims survived to see Pell convicted; he gave evidence in the trial and issued the following statement through his lawyer:
Thank you for your interest in this case. Like many survivors I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle. Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact on 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.
I would like to thank my family near and far for their support of me, and of each other. I am a witness in a case brought by the state of Victoria. I have put my trust in the police and the criminal justice system. The process has been stressful and it is not over yet.
I need space and time to cope with the ongoing criminal process. I understand this is a big news story but please don’t reveal my identity.
I ask that the media respect my privacy. I don’t want to give any interviews. Please don’t come to my home. I want to protect my young family and my parents. I don’t want them swept into the spotlight. I am not a spokesperson about child sexual abuse. There are many other survivors and advocates who bravely fill this role.
I am just a regular guy working to support and protect my family as best I can.
Thank you for your support and understanding.