Pell verdict sends shockwaves across world
AS a suppression order was lifted and Australian news outlets were finally able to report Cardinal George Pell had been found guilty of child sex crimes, the world was watching for the nation's reaction.
Now the horrific verdict from December can be freely reported, anger is echoing across the globe in another shameful indictment on the Catholic Church.
"This is absolutely explosive," CNN's Anna Coren reported. "It will send shockwaves not just here in Australia but certainly around the world, right to the top of the Vatican."
The BBC's religion editor Martin Bashir said the news confirmed "the poison of sexual abuse has infected every level of the Roman Catholic Church".
He said the guilty verdict for the most senior Australian Catholic and one of the pontiff's closest aides was "a grave blow not just to the church but also to Pope Francis personally".
He noted Pell was known by some officials as "Cardinal Rambo", a term of endearment because of his bullish reform of Vatican finances.
Pell becomes the most senior Catholic cleric convicted of child sex crimes after he was found guilty of sexually assaulting two choirboys at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s. An Australian jury unanimously found the 77-year-old guilty in December on one count of sexual abuse and four counts of indecent assault against the two boys.
Pell's victims were two 13-year-old boys on scholarships to the prestigious St Kevin's College. The court heard Pell, then Archbishop of Melbourne, caught the pair swigging sacramental wine after Sunday mass in December 1996. Pell chastised them and then exposed his penis from beneath his ceremonial robes before molesting them, the court heard.
One of the survivors, now in his 30s, brought the allegations to police after years of struggling to understand what he'd experienced. "He pulled out his penis and then grabbed (my friend's) head," said the man. "(My friend's) head was being controlled and it was down near Archbishop Pell's genitals."
The former choirboy said Pell then turned to him. "I was pushed down and crouching or kneeling," he said. "Archbishop Pell was standing. He was erect and he pushed it into my mouth."
Pell then told the boy to take off his pants. "He started touching my genitalia, masturbating or trying to do something with my genitalia," the man told the court. "Archbishop Pell was touching himself on his penis with his other hand."
A month or so after Pell raped him, the man was sexually assaulted by Pell again when he pushed him against a cathedral wall and fondled his genitalia.
"Like many survivors I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle," the survivor said in a statement released after the verdict was revealed. "It has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life.
"At some point we realise that we trusted someone we should have feared, and we fear those genuine relationships that we should trust."
At the time of the verdict, newspapers ran front pages about the suppression order without revealing the details. "IT'S THE NATION'S BIGGEST STORY," said the Daily Telegraph. "Yet we can't publish it."
Several international news outlets not bound by the restrictions did report on the verdict and were curious to see how Australia would react to news that many may have already read online but can now be freely discussed.
The Washington Post, which was one of these outlets, reported Australian-style gag orders imposed by judges "would be considered censorship" and a violation of the constitution in the United States. It observed such restrictions, also used in Britain, had become less effective now readers could access international media online, as well as rumour and misinformation on social media.
Gag orders are intended to prevent juries from being affected by reports of current or previous trials involving a defendant. Pell was due to face a separate trial later this year, involving several alleged victims, but the charges have been dropped. The trial would have centred on charges that he sexually assaulted two boys at Ballarat's Eureka swimming pool in the late 1970s. Prosecutors alleged Pell molested the boys while playing with them and throwing them during visits to the pool but dropped the case after one accuser died, another charge was withdrawn and one was thrown out in the Magistrates' Court.
"It is painful news that, we are well aware, has shocked many people, not just in Australia," the Vatican said in a statement. "Cardinal Pell has reaffirmed his innocence and has the right to defend himself to the last degree.
"As we await the definitive verdict, we join the Australian bishops in praying for all victims of abuse, reaffirming our commitment to do everything possible so that the Church is a safe home for everyone, especially for children."
On the order of Pope Francis, the "precautionary measures" already in place against Pell still stand, and he is "forbidden to exercise the public exercise of the ministry and have any contact in any form with minors".
Three clergy abuse survivors who attended the summit told CBS News on Monday they still wanted to know why the Church had not laid out concrete steps to stop child sex abuse. Survivor and former nun Mary Dispenza said she did not "think our children are any safer now than four days ago, by what I heard".
US victim support group SNAP said in a statement: "We hope that his conviction will not only bring healing to his victims in Australia but hope to survivors across the world who are yearning for accountability at the top levels of the church.
"We believe (the) conviction will make Australian children safer and parents and parishioners better informed about how to prevent sexual abuse."
Many church officials believe Pell is innocent, with some suggesting charges were part of a conspiracy against the cardinal for trying to reform Church finances.
Pell has faced years of negative coverage over his response to paedophile priests including the notorious Gerald Ridsdale, a former friend of his who was convicted of the abuse and indecent assault of 65 children, some aged as young as four years old.
Pell's hometown of Ballarat had such a high incidence of sexual abuse the city was used as a case study in the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, to which Pell gave evidence in 2016 via video link from Rome.
Some believe Pell became a poster child for all that went wrong with the way the Catholic Church handled the abuse scandal.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was "deeply shocked" at the guilty verdict. "I respect the fact that this case is under appeal, but it is the victims and their families I am thinking of today, and all those who have suffered from sexual abuse by those they should have been able to trust but couldn't," he said.
"Their prolonged pain and suffering will not have ended today. While due process continues, our justice system has affirmed no Australian is above the law."
Liberal MP Tony Abbott, a Catholic and vocal supporter of Pell in the past, has not commented.
Senators Derryn Hinch and Sarah Hanson-Young are among those calling for the cardinal to be stripped of his Companion of the Order of Australia.