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Vatican’s former 3rd most powerful man convicted of child sex abuse

Vatican’s former 3rd most powerful man convicted of child sex abuse
Once a close aide to Pope Francis, former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell has been unanimously convicted by a jury in Australia on five counts of historic child sex crimes, a verdict that is likely to land him in jail.

The jury in Melbourne made its groundbreaking decision in December to find Pell guilty on all charges. However, the verdict was sealed at that stage so as not to influence a potential second trial that was expected to commence in March. It was made public only after the prosecution didn’t proceed with that case, due to weak evidence.

Pell, the most senior Vatican figure ever to be found guilty of the sexual abuse of a minor, is now awaiting sentencing for one count of sexual penetration of a child and for four counts of committing an indecent act with or in the presence of a child under 16.

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Pell’s accuser came out to police in 2015, when Pell was the head of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, which oversees all economic activities of the Holy See. The office made him the third most powerful figure in the theocratic state.

READ MORE: Vatican admits to having secret rules for priests who breach celibacy & father children

The victim, now 35, told the court that Pell had sexually abused him and another boy in late 1996 and early 1997, when he was 13. The victim, who has not been identified, claimed that Pell made him perform oral sex on him after catching them sneaking into the priest's sacristy in December, 1996. Pell, the victim alleged, exposed himself to the boys and told him to get naked and touched him inappropriately. The following year, Pell again approached the boy and molested him within the church walls. Both incidents took place after Sunday masses, according to the victim’s testimony.

The whole case was based solely on the 35-year-old’s testimony as the alleged second victim died from a drug overdose well before the proceedings began. The man said that he did not tell about his ordeal at the time out of fear of being expelled from a prestigious school, where his scholarship depended on him being in the choir.

“I knew a scholarship could be given or taken away, even at that age. And what would I do if I said such a thing about an archbishop? It’s something I carried with me the whole of my life,” he said during the proceedings, as cited by the Guardian.

Pell, who returned from the Vatican to Australia to stand trial, said all allegations against him were “a load of garbage.” The Vatican released a statement saying that Pope Francis respected Pell’s “honesty” and “dedication” to reform.

Police had initially stated that Pell might be indicted on “multiple” charges of historic sexual offenses, with Australian media reporting up to 10 alleged victims. The cardinal was the subject of investigation in the early 2000s over allegations he’d molested an altar boy back in the 1960s; however, no formal charges were brought at that time. Eventually, only a few charges stayed in the court and the majority were dropped due to lack of evidence.

The jury reached its verdict on December 11. A day later, Pope Francis removed Pell from the Council of Cardinals, a small circle of papal advisers. The verdict will come as another blow to the Catholic Church, which has been rattled by widespread allegations of sexual abuse. Speaking at a conference on Sunday, Francis vowed to wage an “all-out battle against the abuse of minors, both sexually and in other areas” calling the phenomenon “all the more grave and scandalous in the Church, for it is utterly incompatible with her moral authority and ethical credibility.”

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