The Vatican responded Cardinal George Pell’s conviction of sexual abuse of minors by announcing that “to guarantee the course of justice,” Pope Francis “has confirmed the precautionary measures that were imposed by the local bishop on Cardinal George Pell on his return to Australia, namely: while awaiting the definitive verification of the facts, Cardinal Pell is prohibited in a precautionary way from the public exercise of ministry and, as according to the norm, any contact whatsoever and in any form with minors.”
The Vatican said the conviction is “a painful news that, we are well aware, has shocked very many persons, not only in Australia.” At the same time, “it reaffirmed maximum respect for the Australian judicial authorities.”
It said the Holy See “joined” the Australian Bishops’ Conference “in recognizing the sentence of condemnation of Cardinal George Pell in the first grade, and said it awaited the final outcome of the appeal.” It recalled that the cardinal has “reaffirmed his innocence” and “has the right to defend himself to the final grade.”
The Vatican statement, read by Alessandro Gisotti, the interim director of the Holy See’s press office, said that “while awaiting the definitive judgment, we join the Australian bishops in praying for all the victims of abuse, by reaffirming our commitment to do everything possible so that the church is a safe house for all, and especially for children and vulnerable persons.”
Given the seriousness of the counts on which the cardinal was convicted and in the light of the imposition of precautionary measures imposed on him by Pope Francis, sources in Rome expect the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to open an investigation regarding Cardinal Pell in due course.
The announcement follows the conviction of the cardinal on five counts of the sexual abuse of two 13 year old boys in Melbourne Cathedral in the 1990s. The counts carry a potential 50-year prison sentence.
The judge will begin the sentence hearing at 10 a.m. Australian time on Wednesday, Feb. 27. The cardinal’s lawyers have lodged an appeal, which will be held in the Court of Appeal at 2:30 p.m. that same day according to The Age, an Australian daily.
The announcement came just twelve hours after the Australian judge, Peter Kidd, decided that there was insufficient evidence to hold a second trial against the cardinal, and dismissed the case.
He then lifted the suppression order that he had imposed last year, which prevented the media from revealing anything about the first trial, including the jury’s verdict at the first trial. After the suppression order was lifted by Judge Kidd, the Australian and international media immediately published the news of the cardinal’s conviction in December.
On that day, the 12-member jury in unanimously found Cardinal Pell guilty on all five counts of historical sexual offenses against two 13 year old choir boys in Melbourne cathedral in late 1996 and early 1997.
After the jury delivered its verdict, the judge released the cardinal on bail so that he could undergo urgent surgery on his knee and announced that sentencing would take place after the second trial. Now that the second trial will no longer be held, the judge will begin the sentencing process tomorrow, Feb. 27, and is expected to impose a prison sentence on the cardinal.
The cardinal’s lawyers will lodge an appeal and request “the continuance of bail” until the appeal is heard. The judge will make his decision, tomorrow or in the coming days, whether to send the cardinal to jail immediately or to allow him to remain on bail.
This morning, Feb. 26, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, who delivered the homily at the closing Mass of the Vatican summit and is still in Rome, issued a statement, but refused to take any questions.
“The news of Cardinal George Pell’s conviction on historical child sexual abuse charges has shocked many across Australia and around the world, including the Catholic Bishops of Australia.
The Bishops agree that everyone should be equal under the law, and we respect the Australian legal system. The same legal system that delivered the verdict will consider the appeal that the Cardinal’s legal team has lodged. Our hope, at all times, is that through this process, justice will be served.
In the meantime, we pray for all those who have been abused and their loved ones, and we commit ourselves anew to doing everything possible to ensure that the Church is a safe place for all, especially the young and the vulnerable.
A source close to Cardinal Pell told America that the cardinal was informed yesterday that the second trial was thrown out by the judge for because the allegations were “untenable,” given a lack of evidence.
The same source told America that the conviction of the cardinal for historical sexual offenses was handed down in a retrial. He said the jury in an earlier trial could not reach a verdict, divided with 10 jurors in favor of acquittal and 2 in favor of conviction. He said the judge asked the jury to give him “a majority verdict of 11-1” and he would acquit the cardinal, but the jury could not do so and so he dismissed the jury and ordered a retrial.
The jury in that retrial delivered the unanimous verdict on all five counts, thereby opening the way to the sentencing process that begins tomorrow.