One of the most powerful men in the Roman Catholic Church, a close adviser to the pope, has been convicted of child sexual abuse. A jury found Australian Cardinal George Pell guilty of one count of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16 and four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16. The verdict was reached in December, the Guardian reports, but was kept secret until now by a suppression order. Sentencing is scheduled for next week, though Pell, who has been out on bail, could be taken into custody at a plea hearing Wednesday. The attacks took place months after Pell became archbishop of Melbourne in 1996. Pell did not testify in his defense, but video of detectives interviewing him was screened for jurors. In it, he insists he's innocent and interrupts as detectives elaborate on the allegations: "Oh, stop it. What a load of absolute and disgraceful rubbish. Completely false. Madness." Pell, who is almost certain to be imprisoned, showed no reaction when the verdict was announced. He has filed an appeal.
Pell, the church's No. 3 official worldwide, is the highest-ranking church official to be convicted of sexually abusing children. He moved to Rome in 2014, CNN reports, after being selected by Pope Francis to serve as Vatican treasurer and as a member of the Council of Cardinals to the Pope. The church removed Pell from the council after the accusations surfaced. Last week, Francis held a summit on sexual abuse by clergy, in which he denounced abuse but presented no plan to stamp it out. The men assaulted by Pell told the court that fear of the powerful cardinal kept them silent at the time, per the Guardian. One, a choirboy who was attacked after mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, said that being in the choir was a condition of his scholarship at the time. "I knew a scholarship could be given or taken away even at that age," he testified. "And I didn’t want to lose that. It meant so much to me. And what would I do if I said such a thing about an archbishop?" (The pope admitted nuns have been abused, as well.)