The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is opening an investigation into the case of Cardinal George Pell following his conviction by an Australian court on five counts of the sexual abuse of minors in the late 1990s.
Sources told America that this decision was made by Pope Francis, given that Pell is a cardinal and an archbishop.
The cardinal is now in prison in Melbourne, following the decision of the Australian judge handling his case to revoke his bail.
Alessandro Gisotti, the interim director of the Holy See’s press office, issued the following statement just after midday on Feb. 27, in response to queries from journalists:
“After the guilty verdict in the first instance concerning Cardinal Pell, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will now handle the case following the procedure and within the time established by canonical norm.”
This is a major development in the case of Cardinal Pell. It makes clear that the Vatican congregation, which is the main tribunal for dealing with all cases regarding the abuse of minors by clerics, is opening an investigation into Cardinal Pell, who has been convicted of sexually abusing two thirteen year old choir boys when he was archbishop of Melbourne. The Vatican statement indicates that the C.D.F. will follow the procedure and the time limit laid down in the code of Canon Law of the Catholic Church.
Depending on the findings of the investigation, which will take into account the findings of the Australian court, the C.D.F. will decide whether to proceed by an administrative process or hold a formal trial.
If tried and found guilty, the penalties can vary depending on the seriousness of the crime and, often, the age of the accused; possible penalties include removal from office, restricted ministry, “a life of prayer and penance” without any public ministry and dismissal from the clerical state.
The C.D.F. opted for the more rapid administrative process in the case of the former American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, which found him guilty of the crimes of abuse, leading to Pope Francis removing him not only from the college of cardinals but also from the clerical state.
Cardinal George Pell is in prison in Melbourne, and will remain there until he is sentenced on March 13 on five counts of sexual offenses against two minors, each count carrying a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
Today, at Melbourne County Court, Judge Peter Kidd revoked the bail that he had granted Cardinal Pell after the jury delivered an unanimous guilty verdict on Dec. 11, 2018. He had been granted bail then to undergo urgent knee surgery.
Having revoked the bail, the judge then remanded the cardinal in custody; that is, he ordered that he be detained in prison until March 13 when he will sentence him. The cardinal was then escorted by security guards from the courtroom and taken to prison. He is expected to remain there until he is sentenced.
After that, he will appeal the sentence, various sources said. It had been expected that his lawyers would have made the appeal before two judges of the Court of Appeals yesterday, but he decided against that and opted to wait until after sentencing.
According to Australian media, people shouted “Rot in hell!” as the cardinal arrived in court for this morning’s pre-sentencing hearing.
Late yesterday, Feb. 26, the Vatican spokesman confirmed that “Cardinal Pell if no longer prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy.” Pope Francis had appointed him to that position on Feb. 24, 2014, for a five year period, a mandate ended three days ago.
Material from Catholic News Service was used in this report.