Melbourne, Australia, Feb 27, 2019 / 03:46 am (CNA).- After the revocation of his bail Wednesday, Cardinal George Pell was taken into police custody for the first time while awaiting sentencing on his conviction of five charges of sexual abuse of minors.
The cardinal will be sentenced March 13, and faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in jail for each charge. Pell is appealing the Australian civil court's Dec. 11 conviction.
A gag order preventing media from reporting on the trial and conviction was lifted Feb. 26. The the court-imposed gag order was lifted following the decision by local prosecutors to drop further charges related to Pell’s time as a priest in the 1970s.
Pell was alleged to have committed sexual abuse in 1996, when he was Archbishop of Melbourne, and when he was a priest in Ballarat during the 1970s.
His first trial, in which he was convicted, focused on the Melbourne allegations. The second trial, which has now been scuttled, was to focus on the Ballarat charges.
During preliminary hearings in March 2017, Pell’s legal team successfully petitioned for the allegations to be heard in two separate trials. Other charges initially brought against Pell were dropped during pre-trial committal hearings.
Pell was found guilty Dec. 11 on five charges of sexual abuse of minors, stemming from charges that he sexually assaulted two former members of the Melbourne cathedral choir.
The verdict came after a five-week retrial, after a jury in an earlier trial failed to reach a unanimous verdict. In October 2018, multiple sources close to the case told CNA that the first trial had ended with the jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of Pell.
The second jury took three days to find Pell guilty of sexually abusing two choristers in the Melbourne cathedral sacristy on an unspecified date in the second half of 1996.
Alessandro Gisotti, interim Holy See press office director, confirmed Feb. 26 via Twitter that Cardinal George Pell is no longer prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.
Pell’s term as prefect was to have expired Feb. 24. His resignation has not been noted in the Vatican’s bollettino, so it is believed his term lapsed and was not renewed, and he was not removed from office.
Gisotti’s tweet suggests that Pell's loss of office by the expiration of his term has been communicated to him in writing, as required by canon law.
Pell had been on leave from his position as prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy since 2017. Pell asked Pope Francis to allow him to step back from his duties to travel home to Australia to defend himself against the charges, which he has consistently denied.
A Vatican statement Feb. 26 said that, “as already expressed on other occasions, we have the utmost respect for the Australian judicial authorities.”
“Out of this respect, we await the outcome of the appeals process, recalling that Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence and has the right to defend himself until the last stage of appeal.”
The statement confirms that Pell has been barred from public ministry and from contact with minors during the legal process and will remain so during his appeal.
Prior to his appointment to the Secretariat for the Economy in 2014, Pell served as the Archbishop of Sydney.
In October, Pope Francis removed Pell, along with Cardinal Javier Errazuriz and Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo, from the C9 Council of Cardinals charged with helping the pope draft a new constitution for the Holy See’s governing structure.
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