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Catholic Church’s third most senior cleric is removed from Pope’s inner circle over sex abuse claims

Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic, has been convicted over historical sex offence charges.

Pell’s lawyers previously argued that accusations he sexually abused multiple people in his home state of Victoria were untrue and should be dismissed.

Pope Francis’s former finance minister continues to deny all charges.

Here’s everything you need to know about who George Pell is, the allegations, the trial and the charges made against the former Vatican treasurer.

George Pell, Australia’s highest ranking Catholic, will stand trial over sex offence charges

Who is George Pell?

Born on June 8, 1941 in Ballarat, Victoria, George Pell is Australia’s most senior Catholic and held many significant positions after being ordained in 1966.

Notably, his most recent position has been as the treasurer of the Vatican and the Holy See in Rome, Italy. The role puts George Pell third in charge after the Pope.

Prior to this, the Cardinal was the Archbishop of Sydney and the Archbishop of Melbourne; in the latter position, Pell set up the ‘Melbourne Response’ diocesan protocol to handle and investigate complaints of sexual abuse.

While this protocol was the first of its kind, it garnered criticism because of Pell’s involvement and led to claims that he had knowledge of sexual abuse as a young priest, but also criticised him for procedures he established for handling cases.

On June 29, 2017, George Pell was charged with multiple historical sexual assault offences, but denied all charges. After this, the Pope permitted him to leave the Vatican and return to Australia to defend himself at a committal hearing.

Once believed to be in the running to replace the current Pope after his death, Pell is now the highest-ranking Catholic official to be facing trial for historical sexual offence allegations.

What is George Pell charged with?

Details of the nature and number of charges have not been revealed for legal reasons but in turn, has protected sexual abuse complainants from being identified.

Reporting on the committal hearing, held on March 5, 2018, proved to be difficult because of this reason, as it was closed to the media while evidence was given, but this is standard when sexual offence allegations are involved.

In 2012, Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard ordered a formal inquiry into historical child sexual abuse and the Catholic Church was scrutinised.

Pell was one of the first to give evidence during public hearings and there had been no suggestion that he was a perpetrator. 

During the so-called ‘Cathedral trial’ earlier this year, it was revealed Pell had been accused of abusing two choir boys while serving as Archbishop of Melbourne.

He was alleged to have carried out the crime within the confines of a cathedral.

A second trial into Pell’s alleged abuse known as ‘the swimmers trial’ is due to get underway early next year. 

That trial is expected to hear evidence that Pell ‘sexually offended’ two men when they were boys playing games in a swimming pool in Ballarat, Victoria in the 1970s.