The February 26 news of a guilty verdict against Cardinal George Pell on child abuse charges marks a low point for one of the most high profile figures to ever come out of Ballarat.
Nick Miller looked at his past.
Cardinal George Pell was one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church. Former personal adviser to the Pope, holder of the Vatican purse strings, this "Aussie bulldog" was feared, respected and plotted against in the marbled halls of the Vatican.
It's a remarkable achievement for a boy from Ballarat – the smart, sporty, precocious son of a gold mine manager who was early on picked out for greatness.
Now that he has been found guilty of child sexual abuse and set to be jailed, it will be a fall just as remarkable as the rise that preceded it.
Pell was born on June 8, 1941 – Trinity Sunday. His father was Church of England – a Kalgoorlie gold miner who came east for the 1936 Melbourne Cup, and stayed. Pell's athletic genes came from George snr, captain of Perth Life Saving Club and WA heavyweight boxing champion.
But Pell's mother Margaret was a devoted Irish Catholic, pious and determined her son would be raised in her faith, in the Ballarat family home built by her father. There was confession on Saturday afternoons, Mass on Sunday, and the rosary every day at home.
It was an idyllic childhood, according to a biography by Tess Livingstone: billycart rides, sing-alongs around the family piano, paddling in the local creek.
He went to school at Loreto Convent, and unusually for future priests he was never an altar boy, due to a childhood illness that saw him in and out of hospital for years, undergoing major operations for a recurring growth on his throat.
The eight-year-old Pell wore a poultice tied around his head. He was teased. Livingstone speculates this is when he grew his "several rhinoceros thick" hide. It is also when he developed a deep love of reading.
Pell went to Saint Patrick's College, an intensely sports-focused place that was also a factory for future priests. There, Pell played Pooh-Bah in The Mikado. He was also sprint champion on the athletics team, a long-jumper and shot-putter, cricketer and rower, tennis player and swimmer. In most academic subjects he excelled.
But above all he loved Australian Rules football. He grew fast and dominated the ruck, and at half time would regale teammates with "eloquent flights of oratory" urging them to victory.
In 1959, as he was completing year 12 with an eye on studying medicine, he signed a professional contract with Richmond football club.
But instead, Pell said later, "I feared and suspected and eventually became convinced that God wanted me to do His work".
The next year Pell entered Corpus Christi Seminary in Werribee – the seminary for Victoria and Tasmania. He was remembered by one priest from the seminary as "a tall, strong man [who] loves a fight and will do anything to get his own way". Another recalled "George thought men had to be men and that pansies belonged in the garden".
In 1963, Pell left for Rome to continue his studies for the priesthood. He remembers it as "a turbulent time".
"Many of my contemporaries unfortunately did not get ordained … or left after ordination, left the priesthood. This was the 1960s, we had the Vatican Council and you would remember at the start of the 1960s we had the invention of the contraceptive pill which has provoked a social revolution.
"Here in the Roman colleges and seminaries it was a very interesting time … there was a whiff of revolutionary spirit about … a lot of good people decided to follow other paths."
But Pell stayed the course. He went on to Oxford for a doctorate in church history – one of the first, perhaps the first Catholic priest to take a DPhil in the theology faculty since the Reformation, then returned to Ballarat in 1971 and took various positions as an assistant priest – first in Swan Hill, then back in Ballarat.
His rise continued. The bishop made him Episcopal Vicar for Education, overseeing the church's teachers. At the same time he was a full-time academic in the Institute of Catholic Education, for a decade from 1974, and an aide to the bishop, advising on matters including the appointment of priests to parishes.
But his huge workload, he later told the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in the church, meant he missed many of the early controversies in the diocese: paedophile priests who were quietly shunted around, their abuses covered up rather than reported on.
Protection of children, he told the Commission, "wasn't particularly a topic which was discussed enormously at all".
Despite plausible allegations made by responsible people, he said "the instinct was more to protect the institution, the community of the church from shame". At the time, he claimed to be unaware of many of the worst claims.
In 1987 he was appointed auxiliary bishop in the archdiocese of Melbourne. In 1993 he courted controversy by walking alongside paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, with whom he'd shared a house with in Ballarat, on his way into Melbourne Magistrate's Court.
Pell later realised it was a mistake, he said, an act generated from a "Christian conviction that it's an appropriate activity to be kind to prisoners".
In 1996 Pell was made archbishop of Melbourne.
By now there was a growing awareness of the issue of child sexual abuse and offences by clergy and other Church personnel. Victorian premier Jeff Kennett told Pell the Church should act quickly to address the issue.
Pell instructed the archdiocesan lawyers to put together a new scheme for responding to claims of child sexual abuse – in October 1996 he revealed the "Melbourne Response" and the church issued a pamphlet with a general apology and contact details for complaints.
The Melbourne Response protocol promised modest damages to the victims of paedophile priests, capped at $50,000 – much less than courts could have awarded.
Complainants were told that they could refuse the payments, but the church would "strenuously defend" any claims against them in the civil courts – a strategy interpreted as discouraging civil claims.
In his five years as archbishop in Melbourne, Pell stood down around 20 priests over abuse allegations.
In 2001 Pell was appointed archbishop of Sydney. There he again had to manage the church's response to allegations of sexual abuse against more than 50 priests.
The next year he was directly accused, and stood aside pending an inquiry into a former altar boy's claims that Pell had molested him at a summer camp in 1961.
Pell vehemently denied the claims and in 2002 a retired Victorian Supreme Court judge ruled the allegations were unsubstantiated.
"I am grateful to God that this ordeal is over and that the inquiry has exonerated me of all allegations," Pell said at the time.
By this time Pell had established a reputation as an orthodox, conservative Catholic: opposed to the morning-after pill, opposed to same-sex marriage, a proponent of priestly celibacy.
He had a strong media profile and powerful allies in political and church hierarchies.
Internationally his star was rising, too.
In 2003 John Paul II promoted Pell to cardinal. Vatican observer John Allen jnr called him a "rumour magnet", regularly tipped for higher offices, perceived as influential in the highest corridors of Catholic power.
Two years after that, he participated in the papal conclave that selected Benedict XVI as pope.
Conclaves are held in secret, and the many leaks to the press are always to be taken with grains of salt. But, while rumours that Pell was considered a papal candidate are given little credence, it appears more likely he acted as a kind of "campaign manager" for his friend, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Their alliance continued once Ratzinger became pope. Pell credited their two-decades-long friendship with the decision to hold World Youth Day in Australia in 2008.
Benedict's resignation in 2013 came as a shock. On the pope's final day in office, Pell said Benedict had been weak on governance, and "I think I prefer somebody who can lead the Church and pull it together a bit".
The church had suffered through a series of scandals over sexual abuse and the "Vatileaks" affair that betrayed a bitter power struggle in the Vatican.
Pell did not know pope-to-be Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, though they had met.
But according to the book Merchants in the Temple: Inside Pope Francis' Secret Battle Against Corruption in the Vatican, Pell (whom the book describes as "the ambitious bulldog from Sydney") arrived quietly in the Holy See in the northern spring of 2013 with the intention of playing an important role on the new Pope Francis' team.
He identified counsellors close to the new Pope, and quickly gained Francis' trust. He was named on the new Council of Cardinals, an informal group of eight advisers created by the Pope to help reform the church's administration, known as the Curia.
After Francis' appointment, Pell "started to comb through the account books [and] shared Francis' policy for a Church without privileges and on the side of the poor and needy", author Gianluigi Nuzzi wrote.
"He had a large personality and authority. He didn't trust anyone, tending instead to focus on every decision and responsibility himself."
The following year came a bombshell papal decree: Pell was to be Prefect for the Economy, a newly-created position Pell himself described as "something equivalent to the Treasurer" to the Vatican.
He was set up in opposition to the Secretariat of State – on the same level, both answered directly to the Pope, and he set about digging through the Vatican's labyrinthine finances, unearthing piles of unaccounted-for cash that had never appeared on balance sheets. Pell ironically called them "buried treasures".
He made enemies. Poisonous rumours puffed into the press from Vatican managers in an attempt to isolate and discredit him (and, indirectly, stymie the Pope's attempts at innovation).
Despite setbacks, Pell soldiered on.
"I think it's very important that church money is used efficiently, that the donations are used for the running of the church, and for the helping of the poor, that they're not wasted," Pell told the Royal Commission in 2016, in a hearing held in Rome.
He had supplied a medical report demonstrating he was too ill to travel to Australia to give evidence, so the Commission came to Rome, for a week of hearings by videolink to Australia, accompanied by torrential rain and a media circus.
The hearing was about Pell's handling of historical abuse allegations, during his time working in the church in Victoria.
But months later it emerged police were investigating multiple child abuse allegations against Pell himself. He said the claims were "totally untrue and completely wrong".
Pell has been found guilty of orally raping one choirboy and molesting another 22 years ago in Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral.
The cardinal was Archbishop of Melbourne when he abused the two 13-year-olds and was managing the church’s response to widespread child abuse by priests through the “Melbourne Response”, which he designed.
A suppression order has been lifted.
- The Age