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BOOK EXTRACT: "The word ricocheted around the room." The moment the jury found George Pell guilty. 

At 3.45 p.m. on Tuesday, December 11, we were back in the court. ‘Bring in the jury,’ Judge Kidd said.

The jury filed in, looking serious yet relaxed and certainly not giving any indication of what their decision might be.

‘Mr Foreman, I understand that you have a verdict,’ the judge said.

‘We have,’ the grey-haired man replied.

Judge Kidd’s young senior associate, Bridie Kelly, then stood and read out the first charge to the foreman. It concerned Pell committing an indecent act with or in the presence of the now deceased choirboy when he was 13.

‘Do you find George Pell guilty or not guilty?’ asked the law graduate.

There was a brief pause.

‘Guilty,’ he said, firmly yet calmly.

The word ricocheted around the room like a hand grenade. I’d never known a single word to carry so much weight. Was this even real? Did I hear it correctly?

The foreman had set off the equivalent of a global atomic bomb that would soon reach the heart of the Holy See 16,000 kilometres away.

Claire Murphy, host of The Quicky, chats with Lucie Morris-Marr about George Pell’s conviction. Post continues after podcast. 

‘Oh my God,’ I whispered, as a collective gasp was heard around the courtroom. The whole scene seemed to be playing out in slow motion.

Pell pursed his lips and looked down at the carpet.

His large hands gripped his thighs as if he needed to steady himself. He turned so pale his skin looked almost alabaster against his black suit. He suddenly appeared older, lost and fragile.

Watch: The moment George Pell faced the public after it was revealed for the first time he was convicted of child sex abuse. Post continues after video.

Two female abuse advocates started crying. As I tried to write notes my own tears began falling onto my laptop. My emotions stemmed from the fact the former choirboy wasn’t alive to know the verdict, but he and his family were getting their vindication. It felt like a voice from the grave.

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George Pell had been found guilty of an evil deed against an innocent young boy in his own holy cathedral. The betrayal of those who had trusted him—the victim, his parents, cathedral staff, the Catholic community—was immense. The hypocrisy of every sermon, every prayer and every word he’d written on faith, duty, homosexuality and celibacy was overwhelming.

The foreman would calmly say ‘guilty’ four more times regarding the charges of assaults on J. A muffled but shocking verbal gunshot echoed around the courtroom, and eventually around the world.

What would the Pope say? The ramifications were endless.

Judge Kidd leaned forward, hands clasped together. Even he looked startled. He knew that Pell’s future had taken a sharp turn away from career recovery and a return to Rome to years inside a Victorian jail cell and his name being marked on the Victorian Register of Sex Offenders.

Pell’s red robes carefully pressed by nuns for mass at the Vatican would soon be replaced by an itchy prison-issue green tracksuit and the sound of locks turning in iron-clad doors.

Pell would have known in that instant that at the age of 77, and with his bad heart and other ailments, he might not see the other side of a jail term alive.

Fallen: George Pell
Fallen: The inside story of the secret trial and conviction of Cardinal George Pell by Lucie Morris-Marr. Image: Supplied.

Paul Galbally put his head in his hands and shook his head in despair. It was clear he couldn’t face meeting his client’s devastated eyes.

Sarah Pell, who had briefly left the court, returned and reached out to hold her uncle’s hand. He angrily shooed her away. ‘Sit down,’ he said.

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The little girl who knocked on his door in Ballarat had now knocked at the wrong time. This was the first time Pell’s infamous temper had shown itself publicly in the gruelling eighteen-month long case, his mask of poise and inner calm dropped as he struggled to comprehend his new reality.

‘Thank you very much, members of the jury, for the work you have done on this case,’ Judge Kidd said, getting on with business. ‘I make no comment whatsoever about your verdicts. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to do so. That’s your decision and yours alone.

‘The work that you have done over the last several weeks has been noticed by us all, and in particular over the last few days you have obviously all worked diligently towards your verdicts in accordance with your oath.’

Kidd conceded the case been ‘onerous’ for the jury, ‘. . . in terms of the length of the trial and in terms of the issues which you had to grapple with. I for one strongly believe in the jury system.

I think it’s a terrific system, it’s really important that our fellow citizens are ultimately judged by their fellow citizens like you have done in this case no matter what their station is in life . . . On behalf of the court and behalf of the community of Victoria, I cannot express our thanks enough for the time and dedication you’ve brought to this case.’

Richter addressed the judge in uncharacteristically low tones. He applied to have the cardinal’s bail extended into the new year so he could proceed with knee surgery in Sydney. Kidd agreed, remanding Pell into custody at his plea hearing.

‘I have had the opportunity throughout the course of the last several months to observe Cardinal Pell move and it’s clear that he is a man labouring under a disability . . . this is no way a sign of the sentence Cardinal Pell will face,’ the judge added. ‘It is simply a sign of the court’s humanity in recognition of an elderly person who has been found guilty of serious offences to attend what is an obvious need for significant surgery to his knees.’

For Richter, this high-profile case was perhaps to be one of the glorious swan songs to a successful career. Standing up, he walked over to his client, who was sitting motionless in the dock, reached out and held the cardinal’s hand. He just stood there, clearly struggling to find words to comfort the man whose reputation was lying in ruins.

Ruth Shann also walked over and reached out her slim hand to rest on the cardinal’s pale wrist.

What could either of them say? They’d given two trials every ounce of their experience and expertise. They’d spoken a million words and spent endless nights preparing, writing submissions and determining questions. Yet this was the result: never had two Melbourne barristers been such winners and losers at the same time.

Pell was to be remanded to jail in the city where he had once been such a power player. As he walked out of the glass doors of the court into the early-evening summer sunlight, he pulled off what might be described as a mini-miracle; he managed a small smile.

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Despite everything, the proud churchman wasn’t going to allow himself to crack in front of the breathless, jostling media pack as it squeezed around him from all directions. Flanked by about twenty police and protection-service officers, hanging on to his crutch he kept walking to his waiting silver Volkswagen.

The tough former ruckman would be jailed awaiting a certain appeal. And even Richter couldn’t stop that. Pell had fallen. Fallen from a height so great, it would surely be impossible to rise again.

As the convicted cardinal began his long car journey towards Sydney and a date with a knee surgeon, the Pell pack posed for some group pictures to mark what we realised was an important moment in history. We were all exhausted. We had survived 18 months of hearings and the two intense trials. It was time to go home to recharge.

None of us had broken the suppression order. As frustrating as it was that we couldn’t report on the story, at least we had time to rest, write up our notes and start preparing for Pell’s sentencing, a possible appeal and the Swimmers Trial.

But there was trouble ahead, serious, complicated trouble none of us could ever have predicted.

This is an extract from Lucie Morris-Marr's Fallen: The inside story of the secret trial and conviction of Cardinal George Pell, $29.99RRP. 

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