The most senior Catholic cleric ever charged with child sex abuse has been convicted in Australia of molesting two choirboys.
Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s economy minister, was unanimously found guilty by a jury in the Victoria state County Court on December 11 after more than two days of deliberation.
The court had until Tuesday forbidden publication of any details about the trial.
Pell faces a potential maximum 50-year prison term after a sentencing hearing that begins on Wednesday.
Last week, he lodged an appeal against the convictions.
The convictions were released days after Pope Francis held a summit of Catholic leaders discussing how to prevent clergy sexual abuse and protecting children.
The jury convicted Pell of abusing two 13-year-old boys whom he had caught drinking sacramental wine in a rear room of a Melbourne cathedral in 1996.
'You must not scapegoat'
Cardinal George Pell arrivinf the County Court in Melbourne, Australia on February 26, 2019. Image: AP Photo/Andy Brownbill.
Pell, now 77 but aged 55 at the time, had just been named the most senior Catholic in Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne.
Pell was also found guilty of indecently assaulting one of the boys in a corridor more than a month later.
Pell had maintained his innocence throughout the trial, describing the accusations as “vile and disgusting conduct” that went against everything he believed in.
His lawyer had told the jury that only a “mad man” would take the risk of abusing boys in such a public place.
Both he and Chief Judge Peter Kidd urged the jury not to punish Pell for all the failings of the Catholic Church.
"You must not scapegoat Cardinal Pell," Mr Kidd told the jury.
'Shame, loneliness, depression'
The 2018 Royal Commission inquiry found that 4,444 people reported they had been abused at more than 1,000 Catholic institutions across Australia between 1980 and 2015.
One victim died of a heroin overdose in 2014 without ever complaining of the abuse, and even denying to his suspicious mother that he had been molested while he was part of the choir.
Neither boy can be identified.
"I didn't tell anyone at the time because I didn't want to jeopardise anything. I didn't want to rock the boat with my family, my schooling, my life," the other victim told the jurors.
The victim said after the conviction was revealed that he has experienced "shame, loneliness, depression and struggle".
In his statement, the man said it had taken him years to understand the impact the assault had on his life.
In October, Francis removed Pell him as a member of his informal cabinet.