This is the cathedral back room where Cardinal George Pell molested two 13-year-old choirboys in his ceremonial robes.
Pell, 77, who maintains his innocence, had minutes earlier led Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, where he was archbishop, in November 1996 and retired to the sacristy.
There he caught the two teenagers who had snuck inside undetected and were swigging sacramental wine in the nearby altar wine cabinet.
This is the sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, as it looks today and shown to the jury, where Cardinal George Pell molested two 13-year-old choirboys in his ceremonial robes
On the other side of the room is a kitchen sink and cabinets next to the altar wine cabinet, a small room with a white door left slightly ajar
The paedophile priest scolded the boys, telling them ‘you’re in trouble’, before taking advantage of the situation with no one around.
He exposed his penis from beneath his ornate ceremonial robes, and molested the pair including forcing one to perform oral sex on him.
When he was finished, he shooed the pair away to their choir practice that took place after Mass just down the hallway.
Twenty two years later, the jury that sent the disgraced cleric to jail for his heinous crimes was shown photos of the sacristy – the scene of the crime as it looks today.
The room is dominated by gleaming wood, appearing bright orange in the photos, from the bland grey floor to the white ceiling.
Two-dozen photos of Pell’s archbishop predecessors, and successors, lined the walls above massive cabinets and drawers to store church files.
Pell, 77, had minutes earlier led Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, where he was archbishop, as he did in this photo from 2001, and retired to the sacristy.
The Vatican’s number three argued the cathedral’s processes were so seamless that two boys simply could not have ‘nicked off’ unseen
A computer sits on a desk of the same wood while white priestly robes hang on a portable rack.
On the other side of the room is a kitchen sink and cabinets next to the altar wine cabinet, a small room with a white door left slightly ajar.
Jurors also saw photos of other parts of St Patrick’s as prosecution and defence tried to prove or disprove the chain of events that took place in that sacred building.
They included the awe-inspiring nave of the cathedral with its massive organ where Pell would have led Mass minutes before committing egregious sins.
Other photos showed hallways lined with black and white floor tiles where the two choirboys stole away for some mischief, not knowing what awaited them.
One of the boys said he was sexually assaulted again by Pell a month or so after he was raped, recalling that he was pushed against a cathedral wall.
‘He shoved me against the wall violently and squeezed my genitals,’ the court heard.
Pell leads Mass in 2001 for the last time before his appointment as Archbishop of Sydney
The layout of the cathedral depicted in the photos was a key part of Pell’s defence, arguing he couldn’t possibly have done it, and would be crazy to anyway.
The Vatican’s number three argued the cathedral’s processes were so seamless that two boys simply could not have ‘nicked off’ unseen.
Pell argued 10 ‘independently impossible’ events involving 40 people would have to have happened in a 10-minute window for the prosecution to make its case.
The timing was also impossible because he always spoke to parishioners on the steps of the Cathedral after saying mass.
He was escorted to the sacristy by at least one other priest and couldn’t have gotten back there, and been alone, in the time frame the victims claimed.
Furthermore, during this whole process he would never be left alone while robed, with his lawyers likening him to The Queen.
‘I recall the first two occasions he said mass and I can say I was with him the whole time he was robed on those days,’ his master of ceremonies Monsignor Charles Portelli told the court.
THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST CARDINAL GEORGE PELL
PROSECUTION – KEY ARGUMENTS
Director of Public Prosecutions Kerri Judd QC, senior crown prosecutor Mark Gibson SC and crown prosecutor Angela Ellis told the court:
* There were opportunities for Cardinal George Pell, newly-installed as Archbishop of Melbourne, to sexually abuse two choirboys in the late 1990s. Evidence that the boys slipped away unnoticed from the post-mass procession because of ‘mischief’ and were ‘caught’ by Pell while drinking wine in the priest’s sacristy, withstood defence arguments.
* Pell used the priest’s sacristy to vest and disrobe during Sunday mass because of renovations which rendered the Archbishop’s sacristy unusable. There were times Pell was left alone while still robed.
It was still possible for Pell to expose his penis to the boys while robed because of slits in the alb, an under-tunic, which were designed to access pockets.
* Neither victim reported the abuse at the time but that does not mean it didn’t happen. Mr Gibson quoted the surviving complainant who said it ‘took a courage much later in life’ to even consider speaking out.
He feared jeopardising his scholarship to the prestigious St Kevin’s College, making things difficult for his parents and struggled to understand what had happened and if it was ‘normal’.
DEFENCE – KEY ARGUMENTS
Barristers Robert Richter QC and Ruth Shann told the court:
* The prosecution timeline relied on 10 ‘independently impossible’ events involving 40 or more people occurring within the same 10-minute window in order for the events to have happened and gone unnoticed.
That includes: the two 13-year-old boys slipping away from the middle of the post-mass procession without being seen; Pell being alone and robed in the sacristy and not on the cathedral steps; and there being no other priests or altar servers moving between the sanctuary and priest’s sacristy as was their practice after mass.
* It would have been ‘inhumanly possible’ for Pell to expose his penis to the boys while wearing the Archbishop’s robes.
The ensemble was made up of the alb, an ankle-length white under-tunic which included two slits to allow access to pockets, locked into place around the waist with a knotted rope cincture.
A decorative chasuble was worn over top and, on special occasions a dalmatic as well. Pell required help robing and disrobing and Pell’s master-of-ceremonies recalled only twice in five years not assisting.
* The surviving complainant’s memories aren’t of real events, but are a far-fetched fantasy that he, now aged in his 30s, may have come to believe as the truth.
Mr Richter pointed to the fact neither victim came forward immediately, that the complainant who has since died denied being abused when asked directly by his parents, and that after the first incident involving both boys the surviving complainant did not warn his friend when he was later abused again.
Pell claimed there would be too many people around for him to molest the boys as other participants would be there disrobing and then cleaning up.
The ceremony was also too carefully orchestrated for two choirboys to sneak out at any point and make it to the sacristy unnoticed.
The organists at the very least would have seen them as they played for 15 minutes after mass and had a good view of the route to the sacristy.
Even if they did, he argued they would have been seen when they arrived late to choir rehearsal straight after mass.
No witnesses testified that they saw the boys leaving or returning unexpectedly.
‘Only a madman would attempt to rape boys in the priest’s sacristy immediately after Sunday solemn mass,’ Pell’s lawyer told the jury.
Pell arrives at the County Court in Melbourne, taking his last steps as a free man before he was remanded in custody ahead of his sentencing on March 13
He was taken in this white truck to Melbourne Assessment Prison where he will spend at least the next two weeks
If all this somehow happened, it would have been ‘inhumanly possible’ for Pell to expose his penis to the boys while wearing the Archbishop’s robes, he argued.
But a jury was unconvinced and convicted him of one count of sexually penetrating a child and four counts of committing an act of indecency.
Pell was on Wednesday finally sent to jail, two months after his conviction, as he was given a reprieve while he had a double knee replacement.
He faced court to argue has case for a shorter prison term, and at the end of proceedings around 3.20pm, he was removed from the courtroom to a cell.
He got up, bowed to Chief Judge Peter Kidd before walking through the courtroom door with prison guards as everyone in the gallery turned their heads to watch his exit in eerie silence.
Pell had remained staunch throughout the pre-sentence hearing, glaring at anyone who stared at him in the dock.
Once living the high life in a $30 million home in Rome, Pell has now spent his first night in jail ahead of sentencing on March 13.
He has always maintained his innocence and has lodged an appeal against his convictions.
FROM ALLEGATIONS TO CONVICTION: A TIMELINE OF THE CARDINAL GEORGE PELL CASE
– Pell appointed Archbishop of Melbourne by Pope John Paul II
– Pell sexually abuses two 13-year-old choirboys after a Sunday solemn mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral
– A second indecent act is committed by Pell against one of the choirboys in a corridor at the Cathedral.
– The Herald Sun reports Pell is being investigated by Victoria Police’s Sano taskforce for ‘multiple offences’ committed while he was a priest in Ballarat and Archbishop of Melbourne
– Pell says the allegations are ‘without foundation and utterly false’ and calls for an inquiry into how the police investigation became public
– Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton asks the anti-corruption watchdog to investigate the leak, but denies it came from police
Cardinal George Pell, 77, is known as the Vatican’s treasurer and had been granted a leave of absence while facing trial over child sex offences in Australia. He has surrendered his passport
– Pell gives evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s inquiry into abuse in Ballarat
– Under Vatican rules, Pell gives Pope Francis his resignation on his 75th birthday, as is customary. It is not accepted
– Victoria Police investigators hand over to the state’s Office of Public Prosecutions a brief of evidence on allegations of sexual abuse by Pell
– Officers travel to Rome to interview Pell over the abuse claims. He voluntarily participates in the interview.
– Police present their final brief of evidence to the Office of Public Prosecutions to consider charges
– Prosecutors give police the green light to charge Pell.
– Pell is charged with multiple counts of historic child sex offences
– He denies the charges and vows to clear his name
– Lawyers for Pell appear in the Melbourne Magistrates Court
– Pell takes leave from his Vatican finance chief role to fight the charges.
– Pell returns to Australia
– He hires top barrister Robert Richter QC
– Supporters set up a fund to help Pell fight the charges.
– Prosecutors drop one of the charges against Pell
– A month-long committal hearing begins to determine if Pell will face trial
– Prosecutors withdraw more charges
– Mr Richter claims police conducted a ‘get Pell operation’ and accuses magistrate Belinda Wallington of bias. She refuses to disqualify herself from the case.
– Magistrate Belinda Wallington orders Pell stand trial on some charges, but throws out others
– Pell formally pleads ‘not guilty’
– Two trials are ordered, separating the 1970s and 1990s allegations
– A Victorian County Court employee is sacked for looking up information on the Pell case.
Scenes of anger at the Melbourne courthouse as Pell is convicted of child sex abuse
– The 1990s ‘cathedral trial’ begins in the Victorian County Court in Melbourne
– Pell pleads not guilty again to one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four of indecent acts with a child, over incidents involving two 13-year-old choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.
– The jury is discharged, unable to reach a verdict following a week of deliberation. Some jurors weep.
– A retrial begins. The jury aren’t told of the previous hung jury.
– Pell is found guilty on all charges by an unanimous jury
– Mr Richter says Pell will appeal
– Suppression orders prevent Australian media reporting the verdict but it spreads through international media within hours.
– Hearings begin ahead of the second trial. Prosecutors drop another charge
– An appeal is filed against the cathedral trial conviction
– A County Court judge deems vital evidence inadmissible
– Prosecutors withdraw all remaining charges against Pell and drop a second trial over allegations Pell indecently assaulted boys in Ballarat in the 1970s when he was a parish priest
– Pell is taken into custody on February 27 as the plea hearing begins
– Pell is due to be sentenced by County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd.
Australian Associated Press