By Kenzie Jansonius
George Pell, a cardinal from Australia who served as an advisor to Pope Francis and the chief financial officer for the Vatican, was found guilty and sentenced to six years in prison for the molestation of two young boys after Sunday Mass in 1996. The 77-year-old is the first bishop to be found guilty of sexually abusing minors. The most important evidence in the case came from an anonymous complainant, who testified that after a Sunday Mass in Melbourne he and another 13-year-old boy snuck into the sacristy of the priests where Pell discovered them. According to the testimony, the cardinal forced the boys to perform oral sex. A separate charge came weeks later when the same boy was pushed up against the wall and grabbed by his genitals.
Defense attorneys focused on Cardinal Pell’s position in the community and in the church; why would a man who held such a lucrative position within the church and the community, who was respected and to whom others looked for guidance, risk it all? This approach worked and the original case ended in a mistrial, but a second trial began in November and led to a conviction. A handful of other allegations have been very close to coming to trial over the years. He was accused of sexual abuse in the 1960s while attending seminary, as well as in the 1970s when two boys accused him of touching their genitals when he played with them in a swimming pool.
Judge Kidd, who presided over the case, wants the public to remember that Pell was only being sentenced for the crimes he committed in 1996. Survivors of sexual abuse at the hands of officials in the Catholic church are hopeful that the guilty verdict will lead to more accountability within the church in the future.