MELBOURNE (Reuters) – An Australian court has found Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican Treasurer and a former top adviser to Pope Francis, guilty on five charges of child sexual offences committed more than two decades ago against 13-year-old boys.
The verdict was made public on Tuesday following the lifting of a suppression order on the case. A jury in the Country Court of Victoria in Melbourne had found Pell guilty on Dec. 11 last year following a four-week trial.
Pell becomes the most senior Catholic clergyman worldwide to be convicted for child sex offences. He had pleaded not guilty to all five charges.
He was convicted of five sexual offences committed against the 13-year-old choir boys 22 years earlier in the priests’ sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, where Pell was archbishop. One of the two victims died in 2014.
Each of the five offences carries a maximum 10 years in jail. Pell is due to be sentenced in early March.
The verdict has been made public as the Catholic church tries to deal with a growing child sexual abuse crisis, following scandals in the United States, Chile, Germany and Australia.
Pope Francis ended a conference on sexual abuse on Sunday, calling for an “all out battle” against a crime that should be “erased from the face of the earth”.
The Vatican said in December that Francis had removed Pell, 77, from his group of close advisers, without commenting on the trial.
Pell, who took indefinite leave in 2016 from his role as economy minister for the Vatican to fight the charges, was not called to the stand in the trial.
Instead, the jury was shown in open court a video recording of an interview Australian police held with Pell in Rome in October 2016, in which he strenuously denied the allegations.Pence tells Venezuela’s Guaido: U.S. with you 100%
The jury was also shown a video recording of the surviving victim’s testimony behind closed doors.
The court had issued a suppression order on the trial out of concern that a second trial Pell faced could be prejudiced by the outcome of the first case. But prosecutors dropped the charges on Tuesday.
Judge Peter Kidd had extended bail for Pell, who had been walking with a crutch throughout the trial, to allow him to undergo double-knee surgery in Sydney in December. His bail had been extended since then.
Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Sam Holmes and Neil Fullick
Patriots Owner Robert Kraft To Reject Plea Deal In Florida Prostitution Case
(CNN) — Robert Kraft will not accept a plea deal offered by Florida prosecutors in the case against the New England Patriots owner and other men accused of soliciting prostitution at a Jupiter, Florida, day spa, a source familiar with the case told CNN on Wednesday.
Prosecutors have offered to drop misdemeanor charges against Kraft and 24 other men in exchange for fines, community service and an admission they would be found guilty should the case go to trial, according to Mike Edmonson, spokesman for the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office.
Police said Kraft twice visited the Orchids of Asia Day Spa. Video footage showed him receiving “paid acts” in a room at the spa and surveillance video shows him being driven to the spa, police Chief Daniel Kerr said last month.
The deal offered by prosecutors also stipulates that Kraft must undergo a screening for STDs.
Prosecutors Offer Plea Deal For Robert Kraft’s Prostitution Charge
(CNBC) — Prosecutors in Florida have offered Robert Kraft, the owner of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, a deal to drop charges of soliciting prostitution in exchange for an admission that Kraft knowingly solicited prostitution at a day spa in Florida.
Mike Edmondson, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County State’s Attorney’s Office, told CNBC that Kraft and two dozen other men who are accused of paying money for sexual services, were offered the deal Monday.
Kraft, 77, will have until his next court appearance on March 28 to decide whether to accept the deferred prosecution offer or to move the case toward trial. The offer to him was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The newspaper said that under the deal, Kraft would have to be screened for sexually transmitted diseases, complete an education course about prostitution and do 100 hours of community service.
Edmondson told CNBC that the deal being offered Kraft and the other men is standard in cases where a person who has not previously been convicted of a prior crime is charged with a misdemeanor.
If Kraft and the other defendants satisfy the terms of the deal, the cases against them would be dismissed. If any of the men fail to abide by the terms after accepting the deal, prosecutors would reopen the case against them.
Kraft’s lawyer, William Burck, and the Palm Beach County State’s Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.
Ian Goldstein, a Florida attorney who is representing three other defendants being prosecuted on similar charges, said, “I have no comment about the ongoing plea negotiations.”
Kraft and the other men were charged in February in a police sting as part of a human trafficking probe focusing on massage parlors in Florida. Kraft was hit with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution, and has pleaded not guilty. The businessman was not accused of human trafficking.
Authorities said Kraft had visited a spa in Jupiter, Florida, on Jan. 19 and 20 in two different Bentleys, and received sexual services in exchange for money. Both visits were captured by cameras police had hidden in the Orchids of Asia Day Spa.
Kraft’s second visit came hours before he watched his Patriots defeat the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City.
A spokesman for Kraft had said after his arrest, “We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”
Cardinal George Pell Sentenced To Six Years In Prison For Assaulting Two Choirboys In The 1990s
Melbourne, Australia (CNN) Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Vatican official to be convicted of sex abuse to date, has been sentenced to six years in prison for the “callous” assault of two choirboys in the late 1990s.
A former senior adviser to Pope Francis, Pell showed no reaction when Chief Judge Peter Kidd handed down his sentence in a hearing broadcast live worldwide on Wednesday from Victoria’s County Court in central Melbourne.
Pell, 77, was found guilty of one count of sexual penetration of a child and four counts of committing an indecent act with a child last December after a secret five-week trial.
Reporting of the trial and verdict was suppressed by the court to avoid prejudicing a second trial, which crown prosecutors abandoned in February after the judge ruled some prosecution evidence couldn’t be submitted.
On Wednesday, Judge Kidd said Pell’s attack on the victims was “breathtakingly arrogant” adding that the cardinal had assaulted the boys with “callous indifference to the victims’ distress.”
But the judge said Pell was “not to be made a scapegoat for any failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church.”
Outside the court, survivors of Catholic sex abuse who had attended the hearing were divided on the sentence. Some felt justice had been done, while others thought the judge had been too lenient.
“Part of what went on today was just rot, absolutely rubbish,” said a survivor known by the alias Michael Advocate, who watched the sentence on a live feed outside court, his head in his heads.
“It’s just insulting to the victims and it’s insulting to all the other survivors like myself,” Advocate told CNN. “There’s a disconnect between the sentence that is regularly handed out to the pedophile and the lifelong damage that is done to the victim.”
In a statement after the sentencing, the surviving victim said it was hard for him “to take comfort in this outcome.”
“There is no rest for me,” he said through his lawyer, Vivian Waller. “I’m doing my best to hold myself and my family together.”
Until last month Pell held the role of Vatican treasurer, considered by many to be the third most senior position within the Roman Catholic church.
Pell’s legal team has previously announced it will appeal his conviction on three grounds, including that the jury’s verdict on all five charges was unreasonable, based on the evidence submitted. The Court of Appeal is due to hear submissions in early June.
Pell has spent the past two weeks in custody and was brought into the court from the Melbourne Assessment Prison (MAP) via an internal entrance, avoiding rows of cameras set up outside the court in central Melbourne.
More than 150 people crammed into the courtroom, which had been fitted with extra seats to cope with the demand from those who wanted to be there in person to hear how he’d be punished.
Pell sat in the back of the courtroom, wearing a black shirt without his clerical collar. He was uncuffed, but surrounded by security officers.
The cardinal stared straight ahead as Judge Kidd delivered a detailed explanation of the crimes he had committed and the reasons for his sentence.
After mass one Sunday in the late 1990s, Judge Kidd recounted, Pell caught two choirboys drinking communion wine in the priest’s sacristy and one by one forced them to engage in sex acts, despite their sobs and pleas for him to let them go.
The first choirboy told how he was forced to perform oral sex on the cardinal, who at the time was Archbishop of Melbourne and a revered figure within the Catholic Church.
The boy didn’t tell anyone what had happened for years, before finally approaching Victoria Police in 2015, almost 20 years after the crime. His statement led to an investigation and a number of historical sex abuse charges being filed against the then-Vatican treasurer.
After his conviction, the Vatican launched its own investigation into Pell, which could lead to the cardinal losing his clerical status or being “defrocked,” a severe punishment imposed by the Pope and not subject to appeal.Cardinal George Pell arrives at Melbourne County Court on February 27, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia.
In his ruling, Judge Kidd was careful not to name the two victims, one of whom gave taped evidence against Pell on a video that was seen only by the jury during the trial. Under Australian law it’s illegal to identify sex abuse victims or reveal information that could expose who they are.
The first victim has previously asked in a statement that he be left alone and given time to cope with the ongoing criminal process. “The process has been stressful and is not over yet,” he said.
The second victim died of a heroin overdose a few years ago. The deceased victim’s father said he was “disappointed” with the length of the sentence.
“(Pell) can rot in hell, and rot in prison. I just wished that it was longer, that’s all I can say,” he told CNN.
The choirboy’s father had previously told CNN that his son had been an outgoing child who played sport and liked singing, a talent that earned him a scholarship to the prestigious boys’ school and ultimately an invitation to sing in St. Patrick’s Cathedral where the attack took place.
Around one year after the assault, he said his son was kicked out of the choir, lost his scholarship and started injecting heroin.
“He was trying to mask something that had happened to him. He was trying to cover up something that had happened to him, so heinous and so horrible,” said his father, who is considering filing a civil case against the church.Protesters gathered with signs outside the court during Pell’s pre-sentencing hearing in February, 2019.
Pell’s defense team had submitted 10 references that attested to Pell’s good character. They included one from former Prime Minister John Howard who wrote that Pell, his friend for approximately 30 years, was a person of “high intelligence and exemplary character.”
Howard said he was aware of Pell’s conviction and pending appeal but that “none of these matters alter my opinion of the Cardinal.”
Several of Pell’s other high-profile friends in Australia have leaped to his defense, questioning the jury’s verdict and predicting the cardinal would be exonerated on appeal.
The depiction of Pell as a man wronged has infuriated survivors of church sex abuse who say that casting victims as liars and priests as beyond reproach perpetuates a culture that allowed abuse to thrive within the Catholic Church for decades.
Statistics released in 2017 by Australia’s Royal Commission into Responses to Institutional Child Sex Abuse stated that 7% of all Catholic priests in the country had abused children over the past six decades.
Judge Kidd addressed the current climate of anger with the Catholic Church at Pell’s February hearing when he said, “The Catholic Church is not on trial and I’m not imposing a sentence on the Catholic Church. I’m imposing a sentence on Cardinal Pell for what he did.”
As Judge Kidd handed down his sentence Wednesday, no sounds could be heard in the court.
The judge sent him to jail with the words: “Can Cardinal Pell be taken away please?”
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