UPDATE: The second trial George Pell was to have faced on child sex allegations will not go ahead due to problems with the evidence.
Pell, 77, was in December last year found guilty of sexually assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys at St Patrick's Cathedral in East Melbourne in the 1990s, when he was Archbishop of Melbourne. Pell is to be remanded in custody after Wednesday's pre-sentence hearing.
Buoyed by that conviction, prosecutors also wanted to take to trial allegations Pell indecently assaulted two boys at Ballarat's Eureka swimming pool in the 1970s.
But prosecutors on Tuesday confirmed they would no longer proceed with two charges of indecent assault following a ruling made last week by County Court chief judge Peter Kidd.
Now that the trial won't go ahead, Pell's conviction in the cathedral trial can be reported after Judge Kidd lifted a suppression order, that was initially imposed to ensure a fair trial on the swimmers' claims.
The swimmers' trial was to start in April and feature allegations Pell separately touched two boys while playing in the pool with children between 1977 and 1979. One boy was aged 11 or 12, and the other nine or 10.
The older swimmer told police years later he felt one of Pell's fingers touch his testicle when he was lifted and thrown out of the water. The other reported that on several occasions Pell deliberately groped him on the genitals and backside while under the water.
Pell, who was in his 30s and a priest at Ballarat at the time, denies the allegations.
The two swimmers, now men in their 50s, wanted to give evidence along with a third man who also reported Pell over conduct in the 1970s.
The third man told police that in 1975 or 1976, when he was 10, he was part of a game in the water at Lake Boga, near Swan Hill, on a family picnic when he slipped off Pell's shoulders and made accidental contact with the then priest's erect penis. Pell was alleged to have told the boy: "Don't worry, it's only natural."
Pell wasn't charged over the lake allegation but prosecutors wanted to use the man's evidence to support the claims made by the two Ballarat complainants, that Pell was sexually aroused by touching boys.
Prosecutor Fran Dalziel, SC, applied to Judge Kidd this month that he grant use of the trio's claims as "tendency and coincidence" evidence. Prosecutors were to argue that Pell had a tendency to indecently touch boys under the guise of playing in water, and that it was improbable that the men's allegations were coincidental.
Ms Dalziel said the first Ballarat complainant conceded Pell's contact to his testicle might have been accidental, while the allegation from the lake didn't meet the threshold for it to be proven as a criminal offence.
Prosecutors needed a jury to hear the evidence of all three men if both charges were to be proven, she conceded.
But Judge Kidd last week ruled he would not allow the allegations to be used as tendency and coincidence evidence.
He raised concerns a jury would, if faced with a shortfall on one charge, rely on elements of the other to "shore up" the alleged offence. The risk of unfairness to Pell getting a fair trial outweighed the use of the evidence.
"The admission of the evidence would work an unacceptable unfairness to the accused," Judge Kidd ruled.
Following last Friday's ruling, prosecutors could have pressed on with the trial in a reduced form, most likely featuring just the second Ballarat complainant. But Ms Dalziel on Tuesday confirmed the trial would be discontinued.
Allegations made against Pell by two other men were also discontinued well before Judge Kidd's ruling. One charge was withdrawn last year following the death of an accuser, while Ms Dalziel said earlier this month a charge based on another man's report to police would also not proceed.
- If you are troubled by this report or experiencing a personal crisis, you can call Lifeline 131 114 or beyondblue 1300 224 636 or visit lifeline.org.au or beyondblue.org.au
EARLIER: Cardinal George Pell has lodged an appeal after being found guilty for child sexual abuse in the most sensational verdict since the Catholic church became engulfed in worldwide abuse scandals.
Pell, who was Vatican treasurer, close to the Pope and one of the most senior Catholic figures in the world to be charged with child sex offences, was found guilty of orally raping one choirboy and molesting another in Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral 22 years ago.
His lawyers released the following statement:
"Cardinal George Pell has always maintained his innocence and continues to do so.
An appeal has been lodged against his conviction and he will await the outcome of the appeal process.
Although originally the Cardinal faced allegations from a number of complainants, all charges except for those the subject of the appeal have now been either withdrawn, discharged or discontinued.
He will not be commenting in the meantime."
Australian media has been unable to report the guilty verdict until now, due to a suppression order.
LISTEN TO MEDIA LAWYER JUSTIN QUILL DISCUSS THE PELL CASE AND WHY IT WAS SUBJECT TO SUPPRESSION ORDERS
The cardinal was Archbishop of Melbourne when he abused the two 13-year-old boys and was managing the church’s response to widespread child abuse by priests through the “Melbourne Response”, which he designed.
He was found guilty in a retrial last December, with the verdict sending shockwaves through the Vatican and around the world. A jury in an earlier trial was discharged, in September, when it was unable to reach a verdict. His legal team will appeal against the conviction.
County Court chief judge Peter Kidd has now revoked the suppression order that prevented media reporting the results of the trial and retrial.
Pell was stripped of his position as the Vatican’s chief financial officer and expelled from Pope Francis’ inner circle of trusted cardinals known as the Group of Nine, or C-9, shortly after the verdict, but due to the suppression order the world’s media was forced to pretend Pell, 77, stepped down due to his age.
On December 11, when Pell was found guilty of five charges including sexual penetration of a child under 16 – a charge his lawyer, Robert Richter, QC, likened to "oral rape" – the cardinal was granted bail and allowed to travel to Sydney to have knee replacement surgery before he was due to face another trial on more sex abuse charges.
The second trial has now been abandoned and the suppression order lifted.
Pell could be the highest ranking Catholic figure in the world to be jailed for child sex abuse.
Judge Peter Kidd has said Pell will be remanded in custody after a pre-sentence hearing on Wednesday. He is likely to be sentenced in the fortnight after that hearing.
There was an audible gasp in the courtroom on the afternoon of December 11 when a jury found Pell guilty of one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four of committing an indecent act with, or in the presence of, a child under 16.
The cardinal pursed his lips and stared at the floor, frowning, as he sat in the dock while the guilty verdicts were read out.
Pell’s victims were two 13-year-old choirboys who were assaulted in December 1996 and February 1997. Both incidents took place after Sunday mass and while Pell was robed.
In the first incident, the choirboys broke away from a procession outside the cathedral and snuck back into the sacristy - a room where priests dress for mass - and were swigging sacramental wine when Pell walked in.
Pell, dressed in his Archbishop’s robes, told the boys they were in trouble and then exposed himself.
He pushed one of the boys close to his penis, before turning to the second boy and putting his penis in the boy’s mouth.
Pell then masturbated as he fondled the second boy’s genitals.
In 1997, Pell pushed one of the boys against a wall in a cathedral hallway and squeezed the boy's genitals.
The second boy, who is now in his 30s, reported the allegations to police in 2015. He gave evidence across three days, and at one point said the offending was "something I've carried for the whole of my life".
The other victim died several years ago in accidental circumstances. He never reported the abuse and denied anything happened when he was asked by his mother.
Yet the evidence of the second victim was "powerful and persuasive" and withstood scrutiny under hours of cross-examination, Crown prosecutor Mark Gibson, SC, said.
The victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the jury he was in shock after the abuse and didn't report it for years, partly out of fear he wouldn’t be believed.
"What would I do if I went forward and said such a thing about an archbishop?” he said.
He also feared his school scholarship would be jeopardised if he reported the offending.
"If I mentioned anything like that to anyone it would be a pretty big deal," he said.
"It would be something that I thought perhaps would be dismissed or not acknowledged and I knew that a scholarship [was] something that could be given and taken away, even at that age, and I didn't want to lose that. It meant so much to me."
So, he said, he put the events into one of the “dark corners or recesses” of his brain.
Mr Richter, who has previously accused Victoria Police of running a "get Pell operation", told the jury the allegations were a “far-fetched fantasy”.
It would have been impossible for two choirboys to break away from the procession unnoticed and enter the priests' sacristy, Mr Richter said.
He argued Pell was never left alone by church officials while robed as the Archbishop after mass.
"Only a madman would attempt to rape boys in the priests’ sacristy immediately after Sunday solemn mass," Mr Richter said during the retrial.
Pell had just launched the controversial "Melbourne Response" to child sexual abuse when he assaulted the two boys in 1996.
It later emerged that victims who sought compensation through the Melbourne Response received far smaller payouts, capped at $50,000, than they would have if they had gone through the courts. The response was criticised for doing more to protect the church and minimise its financial costs than helping victims.
Pell was due to face another trial, charged with molesting boys in a Ballarat swimming pool in the 1970s while he was a priest in his Victorian hometown. That trial has been abandoned and the charges dropped.
Pell was found guilty about three months after a jury in the earlier trial was unable to reach a verdict on the same charges and was discharged, which forced a retrial.
The jury of eight men and four women in the retrial found Pell guilty after deliberating for three and a half days.
Pell stayed in the dock for some time once the verdict was delivered. He held hands with Mr Richter for a moment and shook the hands of his other supporters, including former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, who was regularly in court during the retrial. Mr Fischer is also a former Australian ambassador to the Holy See.
After the guilty verdicts, Pell emerged from the court building flanked by about 20 police and protective services officers on that December afternoon. Dressed in a black suit, white shirt and clerical collar, he smiled slightly as he faced a pack of journalists, cameras crews and photographers.
He said nothing other than to thank a police officer who helped him into the front seat of a silver Volkswagen sedan which drove him away.
If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), Lifeline 131 114, or beyondblue 1300 224 636.
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