The Vatican’s former treasurer has been found guilty of abusing teenage choir boys by a court in Melbourne.
Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said Cardinal George Pell’s conviction was “painful” and had shocked many people.
But Cardinal Pell – the Vatican’s former economy minister – “has reiterated his innocence and has the right to defend himself” up to the last level of justice, Mr Gisotti added.
Pope Francis has confirmed measures already taken against Cardinal Pell, which stop him from saying Mass in public and having any contact with minors.
Cardinal Pell was actually convicted of five offences in December last year, but details of the verdicts were kept secret for fear they would prejudice a second trial he was facing. Those charges have now been dropped.
Cardinal Pell was in court to hear the judge’s ruling that suppression order was lifted.
He was found guilty of sexually abusing 13-year-old choir boys 22 years ago in the priests’ sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, where he was archbishop at the time.
He was convicted of abusing two boys whom he had caught drinking sacramental wine in a rear room of a Melbourne cathedral in late 1996, as hundreds of worshippers were streaming out of Sunday services.
He was also found guilty of assaulting one of the boys in a corridor more than a month later.
He had strenuously denied the charges, describing the accusations as “vile and disgusting conduct”, but did not take the stand during his 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.
Cardinal Pell is the most senior member of the Catholic Church to be convicted of child sex offences.
In 2016 he took indefinite leave from his his role as economy minister for the Vatican to fight the charges.
In December 2018 it was revealed that Pope Francis had dropped the 77-year-old from his group of close advisers, without explaining why, but the timing suggests the Vatican had been informed of the court’s verdicts before they were made public.
Cardinal Pell’s conviction comes at a time when the Catholic Church is struggling to deal with the scale of sexual abuse by its clergy.
On Sunday Pope Francis vowed to confront the “evil” of child sex abusers in the church at the end of a summit on tackling paedophilia.
He promised to end cover-ups by clergy and give priority to the victims of this “brazen, aggressive and destructive evil”.
A sentencing hearing for Cardinal Bell, who has been on bail since being found guilty, is due to get underway on Wednesday.
He could be jailed for up to 10 years for each of the offences of which he has been convicted.
(c) Sky News 2019: Vatican’s banker Cardinal George Pell guilty of child sex abuse