Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s economy minister and a top adviser to Pope Francis, has been convicted of molesting two choirboys, at an Australian court said Tuesday.
An Australian court found Pell guilty on one count of sexual abuse and four counts of indecent assault of two 13-year-old boys at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s.
The 12-member jury delivered the unanimous verdict on December 11, but the presiding judge had issued a gag order that prevented reporting since the trial began last May.
The suppression order was lifted on Tuesday after prosecutors decided not to proceed with a second trial related to separate sex abuse allegations against the cardinal.
The verdict comes days after Pope Francis convened a conference of Catholic leaders at the Vatican to address multiple sex abuse scandals rocking the Catholic Church in countries like Chile, Germany and the United States.
Pell, now 77, was convicted of forcing the boys to perform oral sex on him in the priests’ sacristy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral, where he was archbishop. The other convictions related to improperly touching the boys.
The convictions carry a maximum 50-year prison sentence. A sentencing hearing begins Wednesday.
As Vatican treasurer, the 77-year-old cardinal was one of the Church’s most powerful officials. His trial was heard twice last year because a first jury failed to reach a verdict.
A second jury unanimously convicted him of one charge of sexually penetrating a child under 16, and four counts of committing an indecent act on a child under 16.
The Catholic Church worldwide has in recent years faced a damaging series of allegations relating to sex abuse by priests and claims that priests covered up and evidence destroyed to cover up the scandals.
Pell’s case has drawn huge interest at a time when the Pope is attempting to address the scandals, including by holding a four-day summit in the past week.
The jury was also shown a video recording of testimony from one of the victims behind closed doors, which described Pell orally raping him and fondling the boy’s genitals while masturbating.
The identity of the victim is unknown, but he has asked for the media to refrain from questioning him and his family. In a statement following the verdict, he declined to comment on the case but said he had “experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle” as a survivor of abuse.
The second victim died of a heroin overdose in 2014 without ever coming forward about the abuse.
Pell is the most senior Catholic official to be convicted of sexual abuse. He took leave in 2016 as economy minister for the Vatican to fight the charges. In December, the Vatican announced Pell had been removed as one of the pope’s advisers, without commenting on the trial.
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