When police said the words 'George Pell', a family finally understood their son's death.

Four years after 31-year-old man ‘R’ (full name withheld) died of a drug overdose, his father’s phone rang. It was the police. They were investigating allegations against Cardinal George Pell – allegations of child sexual abuse from the 1990s – and they had questions about his son.

In that moment, the grieving father realised it all made sense. The withdrawal from friends and family. The addiction. The waste of life.

“He was stunned,” the man’s lawyer Lisa Flynn told Mamamia‘s No Filter podcast. “I think he’s described that you could have blown him over like a feather.”

Pell, 77, is now in prison for the depraved crimes he committed against R and his friend, who also remains unnamed, back in 1996 when they were 13-year-old choirboys. The senior Catholic was found guilty of five counts of child abuse in December, and was on Wednesday sentenced to a maximum of six years behind bars, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months. The crimes were brazen and “breathtakingly arrogant”, County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd said during sentencing: “The power imbalance between the victims and senior church leaders or officials, yourself included, was stark.”

Pell denies the abuse, and his legal team are appealing the conviction.

Lisa Flynn on the abuse, the fallout and jailing of a giant. (Post continues below.)

It was only during the trial that R’s father learned the details of what happened in the sacristy of Melbourne’s St Patrick’s cathedral two decades earlier. It was after Sunday mass. The boys were sneaking swigs of the communion wine when they were caught by Pell. The then-archbishop forced one of them to perform oral sex on him, then molested the other while he masturbated.

Though at the time, neither R’s father nor his mother knew what had happened to their son, they witnessed the fallout. Lisa Flynn explained to No Filter host Mia Freedman, that soon after the abuse occurred, R withdrew from his family and began taking hard drugs.

“So the drug abuse coupled with this withdrawal – from not wanting to watch football with his dad, not wanting to talk to his grandma, not wanting to bake, which he enjoyed prior to that – there was a very big difference in how he was interacting with his family,” she said.

They engaged a psychologist, they supported him, gently questioned him about what was going on. But nothing. R died in 2014.

Video by SBS

For R’s father, Pell’s sentencing was difficult. Flynn was sitting alongside him in County Court.

“It was a tough day for him,” she said. “On one hand, he was satisfied in some sense that justice has been served, in that the person responsible for committing the crimes against his child has been convicted and has received a jail sentence for that. However, it was really sad for him to listen to the sentencing remarks to hear again how terrified and scared his 13-year-old son was at the time of the assault to reflect on the drug abuse that ultimately took his life.”

Flynn said the father would prefer if Pell spent the rest of his life behind bars.

“He sees Pell has lived a long life, with a lot of luxuries and a lot of privileges, and a lot of life that his son never had. So in speaking with him I think that he would be disappointed if Pell was released back into the community,” she said.

Though he remains unidentified, in order to ensure the privacy of Pell’s surviving victim – R’s childhood friend, who bravely approached police about the crimes in 2015 – he also feels a responsibility to act on behalf of his son.

“Our client has instructed us to commence civil proceedings against the Catholic Church,” Flynn said, “and what we will be looking at in those proceedings is the culpability of the Catholic Church in this case, whether they could have or should have done more to stop the abuse from occurring.

“He does feel like he wants to have a voice around this issue to stop other kids from ever having to go through what his son did and to stop any other family going through what they have.”