Australian Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic Church's highest-ranking official convicted of child sexual abuse, has been ordered to jail.
Cardinal Pell was taken into custody Wednesday during a pre-sentencing hearing in a Melbourne court after the judge revoked his bail.
The jury in his trial announced Tuesday that it had found the 77-year-old Pell guilty of five criminal counts involving the sexual assault of two teenage choirboys in the city’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 while serving as archbishop of the Melbourne diocese.
The jury reached the verdict in December, but the decision had been sealed under a strict gag order imposed by the judge that prevented any details from being released. Pell was facing trial on separate allegations of child sexual abuse dating back to his time as a young priest in his hometown of Ballarat, but prosecutors dropped those charges Tuesday.
Pell faces a total of 50 years in prison on the charges. The judge will announce the sentence on March 13.
Pell has been serving as the Vatican’s treasurer and economic minister since 2014, but has been on leave since 2016 after his indictment. Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti says Pell's five-year-term as economic minister expired sometime this month. Pell has also been removed from a council of close advisors to Pope Francis.
One of Pell’s accusers released a statement Tuesday through his lawyer after the verdicts were announced. “Like many survivors I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle,” he wrote. “Like many survivors, it has taken me years to understand the impact upon my life.”
The other victim died in 2014.
Another Australian Catholic cleric, Archbishop Philip Wilson, last year became the world’s highest-ranking Catholic cleric convicted of covering up child sexual abuse committed by a fellow priest. He was accused of failing to report the sexual abuse of two altar boys by Father James Fletcher in the 1970s. Fletcher was convicted in 2004 of nine counts of child sexual abuse, and died in prison two years later.
Cardinal Pell’s conviction was announced two days after the pontiff closed a three-day conference at the Vatican to address the global child sexual abuse scandal that has embroiled the church for three decades. Francis vowed to wage an “all-out battle” against sexual abuse, comparing pedophilia to human sacrifice and calling guilty priests "tools of Satan.”
Just days before the conference, the pope defrocked former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, after a Vatican inquiry found him guilty of sexually abusing minors and adult seminarians.