MELBOURNE, Australia — The trial of Cardinal George Pell was largely a case of his word against that of his sole accuser, a 34-year-old man who alleged that as a 13-year-old choirboy he and a friend were abused in one of Australia’s grandest cathedrals more than 20 years ago as hundreds of worshippers were filing away after Mass.
The victim, who described himself as a gardener, gave his account to the jury over two days in the witness box. The other victim died in 2014 and neither can be identified. Australian law prohibits victims of sexual abuse being identified in the media.
On Wednesday, Pell was sentenced to 6 years in prison on five convictions related to the abuse. The judge ordered that portions of the sentences for each conviction be served concurrently. The cardinal will be eligible for parole after 3 years, 8 months behind bars.
The key prosecution witness is described by the AP as the complainant and the choirboy who died of a heroin overdose is described as the friend.
The following allegations are in the complainant’s words.
The complainant told the jury that he and his friend snuck into a sacristy — a priest change room where robes are kept and sacred items used in church services including chalices, incense and missals are stored — at the back of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne shortly after a Sunday Mass in late 1996. The complainant said they were swigging altar wine when the newly appointed Archbishop Pell appeared dressed in his church regalia.
“We were in a corner of the room ... when we heard a bit of noise approaching and we were trying to quieten down a little bit and then he entered the room,” the complainant said.
“He planted himself in the doorway and said something like: ‘What are you doing in here?’ or ‘You’re in trouble,’” the complainant added.
“There was this moment where we all just sort of froze and then he undid his trousers or his belt, like he started moving underneath his robes,” the complainant testified.
Pell then exposed himself and forced the friend’s head to his crotch, the complainant said.
Charge: willfully committing an indecent act with the friend, a child under 16. Maximum possible sentence: 10 years in prison. (A charge of sexual penetration, or oral rape, had initially been laid but could not be proved because the complainant had a restricted view of the crime from his vantage point behind his friend). On Wednesday, Pell received a sentence of 2 years and 6 months on this conviction.
“Then (the friend) sort of started squirming and struggling. (The friend) was sort of crouched and sort of flailing around a bit. Pell was standing and he had (the friend) crouched in front of him. (The friend’s) head was being controlled and it was down near Pell’s genitals,” the complainant said.
“’Can you let us go? We didn’t do anything,’ was said before (the friend) was pushed down,” the complainant said. The complainant never explained to the jury whether he or his friend said those words.
The complainant said Pell then forced him to perform oral sex.
Charge: sexual penetration of the complainant, a child under 16. Maximum possible sentence: 10 years in prison. Pell received 4 years in prison on this conviction.
“I was pushed down and crouching or kneeling. Pell was standing,” the complainant said.
The complainant said the abuse lasted about two minutes.
“He instructed me to undo my pants and take off my pants and I did that. Then he started touching my genitalia, masturbating or trying to do something with my genitalia with his hand,” the complainant said.
Charge: willfully committing an indecent act with the complainant, a child under 16. Maximum possible sentence: 10 years in prison. Pell was sentenced to 2 years and 6 months on this conviction.
“Pell was touching himself on his penis with his other hand,” the complainant said.
Charge: willfully committing an indecent act in the presence of the complainant, a child under 16. Maximum possible sentence: 10 years in prison. Pell received a sentence of 15 months on this conviction.
The complainant said the abuse ended without a word exchanged. The complainant said he pulled up his pants and he and his friend silently left the room. The complainant said the pair never spoke about the abuse and the complainant didn’t disclose the allegations to anyone until 2014.
The complainant said that more than a month after the sacristy incident, he was filing with the choir through a cathedral corridor after a Sunday mass toward the choristers’ change room when he crossed paths with Pell, again dressed in an archbishop’s robes. The complainant said he had been aware that his place in the choir provided him with a prestigious Catholic school scholarship that he feared could easily be taken away.
“The whole choir were exiting the cathedral. We were rushing to disrobe. There was a clutch of choirboys going through and I was among them. Pell was on his own in the middle of the choir,” the complainant told the jury.
“I saw him and he pushed himself up against me on the wall and Pell squeezed my genitalia, my testicles, my penis. Nothing was said. It was all within a matter of seconds. One, two, three seconds,” the complainant told the jury.
Charge: willfully committing an indecent act with the complainant, a child under 16. Maximum possible sentence: 10 years in prison. Pell was sentenced to 18 months on this conviction.
“Pell was in robes and I was in robes. He squeezed and kept walking. I didn’t tell anyone at the time because I didn’t want to jeopardize anything. I didn’t want to rock the boat with my family, my schooling, my life,” the complainant said.
“I didn’t caution (the friend) about watching out for what Pell might do because I had no intention back then of telling anyone ever,” the complainant added.
Pell denies either encounter ever happened and will appeal his convictions in June.
His lawyer Robert Richter told the jury the complainant’s “account is ultimately based on some kind of fantasy or a fiction or an invention.”
Prosecutor Mark Gibson told the jury that they should accept the complainant’s evidence beyond reasonable doubt.
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