George Pell has always towered over his contemporaries and for six decades until he was charged with child sex offences enjoyed standing centre stage.
From brilliant scholar and schoolboy athlete to being appointed the Catholic Church’s third-most senior cleric, Pell’s commanding presence has made his fall seem all the more great.
After it was revealed on Tuesday he had raped one choirboy and molested another in the 1990s the disgraced cardinal limped from a Melbourne court as a passerby screamed for him to ‘rot in hell’.
The next step down for the 77-year-old will be when he enters a prison cell. No one could have predicted when Pell first came to public attention just how high he would eventually rise or fall.
A photograph in the 1957 yearbook of St Patrick’s College in Ballarat shows a teenage Pell dressed up as a policeman hamming it up for the audience as he embraces two other students dressed as girls.
The picture was taken during the prestigious Victorian day and boarding school’s annual prize and concert night held in the civic hall.
Cardinal George Pell leaves the County Court in Melbourne on Thursday after it was finally made public he had been found guilty in December of sexually assaulting two teenage boys. The next step down for the Catholic Church’s third most senior cleric will be a prison cell
George Pell has always towered over his contemporaries and for more than six decades until he was charged with child sex offences enjoyed standing centre stage. He is pictured here (centre) in a 1957 St Patrick’s College, Ballarat, yearbook hamming it up in a school play
From brilliant scholar and star athlete as a schoolboy to being appointed the Catholic Church’s third-most senior cleric, Pell’s commanding presence has made his fall all the more great. He is pictured here at St Patrick’s College, Ballarat, with his 1957 Leaving Certificate classmates
It was revealed on Tuesday that George Pell had been found guilty in December of five sexual offences against two 13-year-old Melbourne schoolboys in 1996. Pell was found guilty of one count of sexually penetrating a child and four counts of committing an act of indecency
‘The Policemen’s Chorus, headed by George Pell, created a diversion that appealed to all,’ the yearbook says.
‘George’s superb acting and solo work singled him out as one of the best of the cast.’
Pell, a noted Australian rules footballer as a youth, also played Pooh-Bah in The Mikado while a student.
It will take some time before all the accolades that have been bestowed upon him over the decades to be withdrawn, if his convictions for child sex offences stand.
Pell was inducted as one of his old school’s ‘Legends’ in 2005 to join the likes of former Victorian premier Steve Bracks and marathon runner Steve Moneghetti.
The school’s removed that honour on Tuesday afternoon and said all reference to the disgraced cardinal would be stripped from the institution.
That move came hours after it was revealed Pell had been found guilty in December of five sexual offences against two 13-year-old Melbourne schoolboys in 1996 shortly after he had been made an archbishop.
Pell was found guilty by a County Court jury of one count of sexually penetrating a child and four counts of committing an act of indecency.
A young George Pell (circled) in St Patrick’s College’s First XVIII football team in 1957. The only better team the school had produced was the 1952 XVIII which contained two future Brownlow medalists, Brian Gleeson and John James. Pell was 190cm (6’3″) by the time he was aged 15
Pell called the claims against him a ‘product of fantasy’ and ‘absolute rubbish’ when interviewed by police in Rome three years ago. Physically ailing, the cardinal has been on bail
Those verdicts were made public only after the abandonment of a second trial over allegations Pell indecently assaulted boys in Ballarat, 110km north-west of Melbourne, in the 1970s.
Pell has always maintained his innocence and has lodged an appeal against his convictions.
Since he was a schoolboy Pell seemed destined for some form of greatness but not necessarily in the clergy. His father had been state heavyweight boxing champion of Western Australia and captain of Perth Life Saving Club.
St Patrick’s was an ideal place for young George’s education – a sports-obsessed school which has also produced politicians, scientists, business leaders – and scores of Catholic priests.
George Pell (circled) with fellow members of the St Patrick’s College cadet unit in 1957
Pell, who attended the school from 1949 to 1959, excelled as a sprinter, at long jump and shot put, as well as rowing, tennis, cricket and swimming. He was also a platoon commander in cadets.
In school photographs he stands out as bigger than other boys – he was 190cm tall or 6’3″ by age 15 – and dominated the rucks in Australian football.
Pell had signed a contract with Richmond while still finishing Year 12 in 1959 but surprised his schoolmates when he chose instead to enter the church.
‘To put it crudely, I feared and suspected and eventually became convinced that God wanted me to do His work, and I was never able to successfully escape that conviction,’ he once said.
After studying in Rome and Oxford he rose through the church’s ranks to become Archbishop of Melbourne then Sydney, was made a cardinal and eventually put in charge of the Vatican’s finances.
While Archbishop of the Melbourne he had established what was known as the ‘Melbourne Response’ to investigate and deal with complaints of sexual abuse, the first such protocol in the Catholic world.
On Wednesday the man who rose to become Australia’s highest-ranked Catholic and a trusted adviser to Pope Francis will be taken into custody. He is pictured in Sydney in 2003
Pell (circled) was a member of St Patrick’s College’s champion athletic team of 1957. Pell, who attended the school from 1949 to 1959, excelled as a sprinter, at long jump and shot put, as well as rowing, tennis, cricket and swimming. He was also a platoon commander in cadets
But for the past two decades, according to the Melbourne jury’s verdicts, Pell has kept a terrible secret of sexually molesting young boys.
In 1996 while still dressed in his robes after celebrating Sunday mass he had exposed himself and masturbated in front of one teen, then raped that boy’s friend.
Pell called those claims a ‘product of fantasy’ and ‘absolute rubbish’ when interviewed by police in Rome three years ago.
Defence barrister Robert Richter QC told the jury his client had been portrayed as the ‘Darth Vader of the Catholic Church.’
Mr Richter argued the allegations against Pell could not be true – he had always been accompanied after mass and that his cumbersome robes would have prevented him revealing his genitals.
‘Only a madman would attempt to rape boys in the priest’s sacristy immediately after Sunday solemn mass,’ he told the jury.
Pell stood down from his position as Vatican treasurer to fight the charges and his membership of the Group of Nine Cardinals was suspended by the Pope in December.
Pell will be sentenced in March. He is expected to lose his freedom on Wednesday, with a judge saying his bail will be revoked following a pre-sentence hearing.
Cardinal George Pell is seen leaving the County Court in Melbourne on Tuesday, February 26