Australian cardinal challenges custody after child sex crimes conviction

Cardinal George Pell center leaves the County Court in Melbourne Australia Tuesday Feb. 26 2019. The most senior Catholic cleric ever charged with child sex abuse has been convicted of molesting two choirboys moments after celebrating Mass dealing

THE conviction of Cardinal George Pell on child sex offences is a shattering blow to the Vatican and has edged the church's credibility close to the "point of no return, " according to a veteran Vatican observer.

The judge said he would announce the disgraced cleric's sentence on March 13.

Pell was archbishop of Melbourne when he abused two 13-year-old boys in a cathedral following a mass, the County Court of Victoria heard last year. "Like many survivors, it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life".

"There was an element of brutality to this assault", the judge said.

Sydney's St Mary's cathedral has refused requests to remove its plaque honouring convicted paedophile George Pell. All prisoners are strip-searched on arrival and Pell, like all pedophiles, will be kept in protective custody, where he will remain alone for up to 23 hours a day.

Pell denies the allegations and lawyers have lodged an appeal, which if successful could lead to a retrial.

Pell's bail was revoked on Wednesday, placing him in custody for the first time.

Cardinal George Pell is seen at County Court in Melbourne, Australia February 26, 2019. But because Cardinal Pell knows he is innocent, he was determined to go home to defend his honor-and, in a broader sense, to defend his decades of work rebuilding the Catholic Church in Australia, the living parts of which owe a great deal to his leadership and courage.

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Pell groped one of the boys and placed his penis in the other boy's mouth, according to evidence given by one of victims, who can not be named under Australian law. "You're a pedophile! You're a criminal! You're a monster. May you rot in hell", one protester shouted.

In October, Pope Francis removed Cardinal 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.

In a June 20 statement, he said he had "absolutely no recollection" of the abuse "and (I) believe in my innocence", but said he was stepping down out of obedience.

"It leaves to me only one inference, which is at the time he thought he was going to get away with it". But the bail application was later withdrawn, and no date has been set for an appeal hearing.

"This offending warrants immediate imprisonment", prosecutor Mark Gibson told a packed courtroom, which was crowded to overflowing with journalists, lawyers and members of the public.

Mr Agnew, who writes for the Irish paper The Sunday Independent, said he was not sure an institution, even one as powerful as the Catholic Church, could continue to withstand such bad publicity.

Pell's first trial on the charges ended September with a hung jury, with 10 of 12 jurors supporting his acquittal. As already expressed on other occasions, we have the utmost respect for the Australian judicial authorities.

The guilty verdict was unanimously reached by the jury, and was subjected to a suppression order until another hearing for the cardinal had been carried out, but those charges have now been dropped.

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