SYDNEY, Australia.- Australian cardinal George Pell, who was once the third-most powerful figure in the Vatican, was found guilty of child sexual abuse by a jury in Melbourne, judicial sources announced Tuesday.
Pell, 77, was found guilty of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16 and four charges of committing an indecent act with a child under the age of 16.
The offenses occurred at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in late 1996 and early 1997.
The unanimous verdict on the five-week trial was issued on Dec. 11 last year, but could not be disclosed due to a suppression order, which was lifted on Tuesday.
Pell has been out on bail since the verdict, but could be taken into custody Wednesday after a plea hearing, judicial sources told EFE.
He had pleaded not guilty to the charges and on Tuesday reiterated his innocence.
«Cardinal Pell has always maintained his innocence and continues to do so,» said Pell’s lawyer Paul Galbally in a statement announcing an appeal against the ruling.
ChiefJjudge Peter Kidd is expected to issue a sentence within the next two weeks. Pell faces a maximum of 10 years in prison for each charge.
The five charges that Pell was found guilty of date back to a Sunday in December, 1996 after he had officiated a solemn mass as archbishop of Melbourne, when he exposed his genitals to two 13-year-old choirboys and sexually assaulted them.
The verdict comes after a long and complicated judicial process, which was kept secret.
A previous trial on the same charges in the middle of 2018 resulted in a hung jury, leading to a retrial.
Pell was the Vatican’s chief financial officer and Pope Francis expelled him from his inner circle, known as the Group of Nine, or C-9, shortly after the verdict in December last year.
The release of the sentence against Pell comes after the Vatican summit addressing the scourge of pedophilia within the church, during which Pope Francis Sunday offered eight guidelines to eradicate the «monstrosity» of child abuse, but the lack of concrete measures disappointed many victims.