Breaking News: Cardinal Pell’s Conviction Overturned

Cardinal George Pell.

A chronological list of key events in the life of Cardinal George Pell

George Pell: A Timeline: A chronological list of key events in the life of the Australian cardinal, including details of his financial reforms as well as abuse allegations, charges and eventual conviction, and the grounds upon which he is appealing his conviction.

Early Years

1941 George Pell is born in the Victorian town of Ballarat to an Irish Catholic mother and a non-practising Anglican father. 

1960 Pell begins studying for the priesthood at Corpus Christi College in Werribee.

1966 Pell is ordained by Cardinal Grégoire-Pierre Agagianian, an Armenian Catholic and a leading figure on communism and the Soviet Union. 

1972 Father Pell returns to Ballarat as a parish priest. 

1973 He lives with Gerard Ridsdale who was later convicted for sexual abuse in the 1960s-1980s. Pell has maintained he never knew of the abuse, which was a focus of questioning by Australia’s royal commission in 2016. 

1977 Father Pell is part of a committee that sends Ridsdale to his next parish of Edenhope. His bishop, Ronald Mulkearns, knew about complaints against Ridsdale but Pell told a 2016 royal commission that the bishop deliberately withheld details from him and other consultors. 

Melbourne Appointments

1987 Pell becomes an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne.

1990 John Paul II appoints him a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, a position he holds until 2000.

1993 Bishop Pell accompanies Ridsdale to his first court appearance for child sex offences.

1996 John Paul II appoints Pell archbishop of Melbourne where he pioneers the Melbourne Response, which offers support and counselling to victims of sexual abuse but was criticized for placing limits on compensation payments.

Sydney Appointment

2001 Archbishop Pell is appointed archbishop of Sydney.

2002 He temporarily stands aside while a Church investigation looks into an allegation that he sexually abused a 12-year-old altar boy in 1961 while he was a seminarian. Pell denies the allegations which are not proven. 

2003 Pope John Paul II elevates Pell to cardinal. 

Vatican Appointment 

March 2013 Victoria police set up “Operation Tethering,” a probe that targeted Pell before any formal allegations of historical sexual offences were made. The investigation turned into an “operation” in April 2015 based on allegations of “inappropriate behavior” by Pell, but no accusations of criminal conduct.

September 2013 Cardinal Pell begins work devising statutes and rules for new Secretariat for the Economy.

February 2014 Pope Francis appoints Cardinal Pell prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, making him head of Vatican finances and the third most senior figure in the Church.

March 2014 Pell appears before the royal commission in Sydney, says he should have exercised greater oversight over fighting a legal claim by abuse victim, John Ellis. The litigation “was hard fought, perhaps too well fought by our legal representatives,” he said.

August 2014 Pell appears before the royal commission in Melbourne, and defends his Melbourne Response program for sex abuse victims.

December 2014 Cardinal Pell says his department found millions of euros in Vatican dicasteries “tucked away,” off balance sheets. The amount consisted of 94 million euros in the Secretariat for State, later followed by the discovery of nearly 1 billion euros in various other dicasteries.

June 2015 The royal commission announces Cardinal Pell is to appear in a second set of hearings in the Ballarat archdiocese. The cardinal says he is prepared to return to Australia to give evidence but health reasons later prevent him from doing so, and so he gives evidence via video link from Rome. 

February 2016 The cardinal strongly denies a newspaper allegation he is being investigated for “multiple offences” and calls for an inquiry into Victorian police, believing the allegations were leaked to damage him ahead of his third appearance before the royal commission. 

March 2016 During that appearance, Cardinal Pell repeats that he did not have any knowledge of Ridsdale’s actions when he was a priest in Ballarat in the 1970s. 

April 2016 The Vatican Secretariat of State announces suspension of first external audit of the Vatican without consulting Cardinal Pell. “They’re afraid of the audit uncovering information they don’t want uncovered and are worried about losing sovereign control over Vatican finances,” a source tells the Register. “What they want is to get rid of Cardinal Pell.” 

July 2016 Pope Francis issues a motu proprio, returning administration of the Holy See’s assets to APSA, as part of a process of stripping powers that had been given to the Secretariat for the Economy when it was created in 2014.

July 2016 Victoria police announce allegation against Cardinal Pell that he exposed himself to a group of young boys at a surf club in the late 1980s. 

October 2016 Australian detectives fly to Rome to interview Pell about child sexual abuse allegations, including abuse of two choristers in Melbourne cathedral — an allegation a jury later found him guilty of committing. During the interview (see video), Pell dismisses the allegations as “a load of absolute and disgraceful rubbish.” He tells detectives that if they lay charges against him it will damage the Church.

February 2017 Detectives send an updated brief of evidence to the office of public prosecutions. 

May 10, 2017 APSA unilaterally tells Vatican departments to supply information to an outside auditor, a move rejected by Cardinal Pell and Vatican auditor general Libero Milone. In a letter to the Pope obtained by the Register, Cardinal Pell says he believes “serious irregularities” at APSA indicate the Vatican could be approaching the “moment of truth” in the economic reforms.

June 20, 2017 Libero Milone unexpectedly resigns. He later says he was “threatened with arrest,” and that the head of the Gendarmerie (Vatican police) intimidated him into resigning because his investigations were uncovering corruption in the Vatican. A year later, the Vatican withdrew charges against Milone; it has yet to reinstate him or offer compensation.  

Australian Arraignment

June 29, 2017 Cardinal Pell is charged with multiple sexual offences and is ordered to appear at Melbourne magistrates court on July 26. He vigorously protests his innocence, and volunteers to fly back to Australia to clear his name even though he could invoke diplomatic immunity.

September 2017 Milone links his dismissal to the exit of Cardinal Pell, implying the two may be more than just coincidence during an overhaul of Vatican finances.

May 1, 2018 Magistrate Belinda Wallington orders Cardinal Pell to face trial by jury over multiple sexual offence allegations even though many of the most serious allegations are dismissed. The first trial relates to allegations that Pell sexually abused two choirboys at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 and 1997, while he was archbishop of Melbourne. The second trial relates to allegations that then-Father Pell molested boys at the Ballarat swimming pool in the 1970s.

May 15, 2018 Suppression order enforced.

August 15, 2018- The first trial begins with a jury of 14 selected from 250 people. 

September 20, 2018 – A mistrial is declared after jurors were unable to reach a majority verdict. Some reports say the verdict was 10-2 in Pell’s favor, but this has not been fully proven. 

December 6, 2018 – Jury retires to deliberate after a retrial. 

December 11, 2018 – The jury returns a unanimous verdict of guilty on all five charges of abusing the boys in St. Patrick’s Cathedral after less than four days of deliberation. Suppression order remains in place until second trial is over. Pell’s defence lawyer says he will “absolutely” appeal against the verdict. Pell is granted bail until February 2, 2019, in order to undergo knee reconstruction surgery in Sydney.

December 13, 2018  – Pope Francis removes Cardinal Pell and two other cardinals from his Council of Cardinals advising him on Church reform. Pell remains prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.

February 13-14, 2019 – Pre-trial hearings take place for the second trial. 

February 24, – Cardinal Pell’s five-year mandate as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy expires. 

February 26, 2019:  – Prosecutors announce they have dropped the second trial owing to a lack of evidence, and because one of Pell’s key accusers died in January 2018. As there is no longer a risk of prejudicing a jury, Judge Peter Kidd lifts the suppression order on the first trial.

March 13, 2019: –  Kidd sentences Cardinal Pell to six years in prison, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months. 

June 5-6, 2019:  – The Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of the Australian state of Victoria hears oral arguments in Cardinal Pell’s appeal against his conviction. The appeal is based on three grounds: first, that the verdict was unreasonable, because of extensive uncontroverted evidence entered at trial by 20 witnesses establishing that the cardinal could not have committed the crimes in the manner outlined by the former choirboy who testifed that he was abused by the cardinal; second, that the trial judge erred in preventing the defence from presenting a video to jurors in its closing address; and third; that the cardinal was not arraigned in the presence of the jury, as is mandatory according to the state of Victoria’s judicial procedures.

August 21, 2019: –  The Supreme Court of Victoria upheld the conviction of Cardinal George Pell. A three-judge appellate panel upheld his 2018 conviction for sexual abuse of minors in a divided decision delivered Aug. 21 by a majority (2-1). Pell will continue to serve his sentence of 6 years in prison and may be eligible for parole after he has served 3 years and 8 months of his sentence. 

Cardinal Pell’s Conviction Overturned

Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Daniel Ibanez/CNA (Daniel Ibanez/CNA)WORLD |  APR. 6, 2020 Breaking News: Cardinal Pell’s Conviction Overturned. Cardinal Pell is expected to celebrate with a private Mass of thanksgiving, the first he will celebrate since his incarceration in February 2019.Ed Condon and JD Flynn/CNA.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After an ordeal that began nearly four years ago, and more than 13 months of imprisonment, Cardinal George Pell is expected to be released from prison imminently, after his conviction for five alleged counts of sexual abuse was overturned Tuesday by Australia’s High Court.

Cardinal Pell is expected to be released from prison within two hours.

“The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place,” the court said in a judgment summary April 7

After a March hearing at the High Court in Canberra, which Cardinal Pell was not permitted to attend, the cardinal will soon be released from HM Prison Barwon, a maximum-security facility southwest of Melbourne. Cardinal Pell is expected to celebrate with a private Mass of thanksgiving, the first he will celebrate since his incarceration in February 2019.

At issue in the appeal was whether the jury that convicted Cardinal Pell in December 2018 of sexually abusing two choristers could have plausibly found Pell guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, having heard the case presented by the prosecutors and the defense mounted by Cardinal Pell’s lawyers.

The High Court found the appellate court that heard Cardinal Pell’s appeal last year “failed to engage with the question of whether there remained a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place, such that there ought to have been a reasonable doubt as to the applicant’s guilt”.

The Court’s April 7 release added that “The unchallenged evidence of the opportunity witnesses was inconsistent with the complainant’s account, and described: (i) the applicant’s practice of greeting congregants on or near the Cathedral steps after Sunday solemn Mass; (ii) the established and historical Catholic church practice that required that the applicant, as an archbishop, always be accompanied when robed in the Cathedral; and (iii) the continuous traffic in and out of the priests’ sacristy for ten to 15 minutes after the conclusion of the procession that ended Sunday solemn Mass.”

“The Court held that, on the assumption that the jury had assessed the complainant’s evidence as thoroughly credible and reliable, the evidence of the opportunity witnesses nonetheless required the jury, acting rationally, to have entertained a reasonable doubt as to the applicant’s guilt in relation to the offences involved in both alleged incidents.”
In their appeal, Cardinal Pell’s attorney argued that the conviction should have been overturned because it was based upon uncorroborated testimony of only one complainant.More from National Catholic Register‹‹›› 

That complainant said that he and another choir boy were sexually abused by Cardinal Pell after Sunday Mass while the cardinal was Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.

According to the complainant, Cardinal Pell exposed himself and forced the two teenage choir boys to commit sex acts upon him, while the cardinal was fully vested in his Sunday Mass garb, almost immediately after Mass in the priests’ sacristy at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996. The complainant also said that Cardinal Pell fondled him in a corridor in 1997.

The other apparent victim died in 2014, and was unable to testify in the proceedings. In 2001 he denied to his mother that any abuse occurred while he was a member of the choir.

Cardinal Pell was convicted in 2018, in the second trial concerning the allegations. The first trial ended in a hung jury.

After the conviction, the cardinal was sentenced to six years in prison, of which he had been required to at least three years and eight months before being eligible to apply for parole. Cardinal Pell was to be eligible for release in October 2022.

Cardinal Pell, 78, has maintained his innocence. His defence has insisted that the alleged crimes would have been, under the circumstances, “simply impossible.”

The conviction has divided opinion in Australia and internationally. The cardinal’s defenders have contended that the sacristy abuse allegations are not possible given the high traffic after Mass and the obstructing nature of the Mass vestments.

The cardinal has been incarcerated in HM Prison Barwon, a maximum-security prison southwest of Melbourne that holds some notorious crime bosses.

The cardinal is now expected to face a canonical proceeding in Rome, overseen by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.