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  • Cardinal George Pell at County Court in Melbourne, Australia, Feb. 26, 2019

    Cardinal George Pell at County Court in Melbourne, Australia, Feb. 26, 2019 | Photo: Reuters

Published 26 February 2019

In an unprecedented case, a former Australian cardinal and one of the Catholic Church's highest officials was found guilty of pedophilia.   

Cardinal George Pell of the Catholic Church has been found guilty in his home country of Australia for sexually abusing two choir boys in 1996. This makes the Pell the highest-ranking clergy member to be convicted of molesting minors.

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It took two trials in 2018 before Pell was convicted on one charge of sexually penetrating a minor and four counts of committing an indecent act on a child under the age of 16, before he was convicted last December. It was not until that time the Vatican barred him from the Church’s influential C9 circle that acts as an advisory council to the pope. He held the position of treasurer within the committee and was regarded as the Church’s third most powerful member.

The verdict against Pell wasn’t released to the public until Tuesday for legal reasons, says The Guardian. The former advisor to the pontiff, who has been prohibited from practicing by Pope Francis, will hear his sentence on Feb. 27. Pell is expected to appeal the case for which he pleaded not guilty.

The jurors in the Melbourne court witnessed testimonies from one of the victims, who cannot be named, who said Pell abused him and another boy when they were both 13 after the then Melbourne archbishop found them drinking church wine.

The man told his peers he had experienced "shame, loneliness, depression and struggle" because of the abuse by Pell.

"Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life," he said.

The other victim died in 2014 of a drug overdose.

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Pell's lawyer, Robert Richter tried to convince the jury that the allegations against his client were fantasies made up by the victims.

The surviving victim in the sex abuse case said the proceedings have been stressful and are "not over yet."

Pope Francis and cardinals convened a first-ever summit on sexual abuse within the Church last week to try to deal with the continual cases of pedophilia within the powerful religious institution being revealed by victims across the world, including Chile, Argentina, and the United States.

Last April Vatican investigators produced a 2,300-page report detailing years of widespread pedophilia by Chilean priests and archbishops.

The summit produced a plea by Pope Francis to “listen to the little ones” when they talk of abuse and a “practical handbook” of how the diocese should proceed in cases where clergy are accused of molesting or sexually abusing patrons.

But the list of 21 “reflection points” in the handbook has been criticized by victims. Peter Isley, spokesperson for Ending Clergy Abuse that unites activists on the topic from around the globe called the list “vague” and called for “zero tolerance” against sexual abusers in the Church.

“There was not a single thing about what they are going to do about bishops who cover up sex crimes,” said Isley to reporters.

“There’s all this vagueness (in the handbook) – listening structures and criteria. But what counts is that zero-tolerance should be written into church law. If a priest has been determined [to have committed child abuse], they should be removed from ministry. And if bishops have covered things up, they must be removed too,” stated the activist from Rome last week.

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