Cardinal George Pell has been convicted by an Australian court on charges of sexual abuse of minors, according to media reports and CNA sources close to the cardinal.
A judicial gag order has restricted Australian media coverage of the trial since June.
Despite the gag order, a story published Dec. 11 on the Daily Beast website first reported that a unanimous verdict of guilty had been returned by a jury on charges that Pell sexually abused two altar servers in the late 1990s, while he was Archbishop of Melbourne.
The verdict reportedly followed three days of deliberations by the jury – the second to hear the case. An earlier hearing of the case is reported to have ended in early autumn with a mistrial, after jurors were unable to reach a verdict.
In October, two sources close to Cardinal Pell, members of neither his legal team nor the Catholic hierarchy in Australia, told CNA that the first hearing of the case had ended in a mistrial due to a deadlocked jury.
In remarks to CNA Dec. 12, those sources independently confirmed this week’s report that a guilty verdict had been reached.
Pell will reportedly be sentenced in early 2019. He will not be incarcerated prior to his sentencing.
Citing deference to the gag order, the Vatican has declined to comment on reports of the guilty verdict.
“The Holy See has the utmost respect for the Australian courts. We are aware there is a suppression order in place and we respect that order,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told reporters Dec 12.
Pell has been accused of multiple instances of sexual abuse of minors. In May, lawyers for the cardinal petitioned the County Court of Victoria to split the allegations into two trials, one dealing with the accusations from Melbourne, and another dealing with accusations related to his time as a priest in Ballarat in the 1970s.
In October, Pope Francis removed Pell, along with Cardinal Javier Errazuriz and Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, from the C9 Council of Cardinals charged with helping the pope draft a new constitution for the Holy See’s governing structure.
Until the imposition of the gag order in June, Pell had been the subject of sustained media attention in Australia, prompting the order. The extent of hostile attention directed at Pell by several Australian outlets, even prior to the accusations being made, led to a public debate in some sections of the Australian media about whether it would be possible to find an impartial jury for the cardinal.
In remarks to CNA, one source called the integrity of the proceeding into question, calling the trial a “farce” and a “witch hunt.” He said that Australian prosecutors were determined to secure a conviction, despite the earlier mistrial.
“They kept going until they got the jury who’d give them what they want,” the source told CNA.
If the decision is confirmed, Pell can appeal to the Supreme Court in Victoria, and from there to the Australian High Court.
Full story at Catholic News Agency.