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What did George Pell do? How one man's evidence was the undoing of Cardinal George Pell.

The following contains details of sexual assault which may be distressing. For 24-hour support, please call 1800 RESPECT. 

Just after 11am on Wednesday morning, Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to six years imprisonment, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.

 Pell’s sentencing for sexually abusing two choirboys in 1996 was broadcast Australia-wide.

The maximum penalty for Pell’s crimes was 10 years, yet Chief Justice Peter Kidd said this was “not the diminutive factor of my sentence, nor is the maximum penalty the starting point for my sentencing exercise”.

These are the details of his crimes.

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This story was originally published on February 26, 2019.

For almost two decades, a man who was sexually assaulted by Cardinal George Pell as a teenager kept the details of one particular day a secret.

He had been a student and choirboy in December 1996 when, after singing at a Sunday mass, he and another student separated from the rest of the group. They found themselves in the priest’s sacristy – a room where priests traditionally prepare for their church service – which was off limits to students.

According to ABC court reporter Emma Younger, who was in court as the prosecution barrister Mark Gibson SC quoted Pell’s victim’s testimony, the boys were having a few swigs of the priest’s sacramental wine when Pell found them.

Pell’s victim recalled, “He… said something like ‘what are you doing in here?’ or ‘you’re in trouble’.”

One of the boys then asked, “Can you let us go? We didn’t do anything”.

But Pell, who had become Archbishop of Melbourne just months earlier, pushed one of the boys towards his penis.

A few minutes later, he did the same to the other boy – forcing him to perform oral sex.

In court, Pell’s victim said, “I put my clothes back on, I corrected myself…” before the two boys left the room.

He was abused by Pell for a second time months later, and described how he was pushed against a corridor and groped.

Pell’s defence barrister, Robert Richter QC, argued that these allegations were practically impossible, telling the court, “Whether it’s an embellishment of a fantasy that he has come to believe or something else, the story is being made up”.

The prosecution barrister, however, pointed to the level of detail with which Pell’s accuser was able to describe the room.

“You wouldn’t know the layout of the room,” Mark Gibson said, “that the wine was stored there, without having been there… when these things occurred”.

The accuser told the trial, “I had no intention back then of telling anyone ever”.

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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. 

Video via SBS News

“I was young and I didn’t really know what had happened to me. I was worried about anything that could jeopardise my schooling.

The other boy who was assaulted by Pell couldn’t be called upon to testify. He has since died of a heroin overdose.

Today (Tuesday), a suppression order was officially lifted, allowing Australian media to report on Pell’s five-week trial in late 2018 which found him guilty of child sex abuse.

Lucie Morris-Marr, a reporter for The New Daily, was in court this morning, as well as the afternoon of Tuesday December 11, the day Pell’s “shock verdict” was handed down.

A jury of eight men and four women took three and a half days to find Pell guilty of five charges – one of sexually penetrating a child and four of committing indecent acts with children.

“Everyone was shocked – no one was expecting it,” Morris-Marr told Mamamia.

“In the end really it was, did they believe [the victim] or not? It was his word against Pell’s, and someone was lying, and in the end, the jury decided Pell was lying.

“But [Pell] fought hard, it was a battle, and he had the best legal team.”

Media weren’t present for the accuser’s testimony, which Morris-Marr says is “standard practice for child sexual assault victims”.

“They [testify] via video link and the media are not allowed, and the reason is they think that it puts pressure on them and added stress, and they don’t want anyone who’s been through child abuse to have added stress.”

During his closing address, prosecution barrister Mark Gibson SC quoted from the victim’s testimony, but it’s unlikely the full transcript will ever be made public.

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In a media statement through his lawyer, the victim said, “Like many survivors I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle. Like many survivors 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.

“I understand this is a big news story but please don’t reveal my identity… I want to protect my young family and my parents…

“I am not a spokesperson about child sexual abuse. There are many other survivors and advocates who bravely fill this role.

“I am a regular guy working to support and protect my family as best I can.”

As for Pell, Morris-Marr says “the trajectory of his life has just turned a massive corner”.

“Reputation is everything, and it’s over.”

You can read Lucie Morris-Marr’s reporting on the Pell trial on The New Daily

If you have experienced sexual assault and are in need of support, please call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732. Help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also contact Bravehearts for counselling and support for survivors of sexual abuse on 1800 272 831, Lifeline for 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention, or, if you’re the partner of a person who has experienced sexual assault, you can contact PartnerSPEAK on (03) 9018 7872 for peer support for non-offending partners. 

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