Sources say that five counts of sexual abuse were allegedly committed by Pell against the two choristers immediately following a 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass in Melbourne’s cathedral. Pell is accused of abusing both choir members in the same incident.
Only one of the alleged victims was present in court to give evidence against Pell. The other alleged victim, according a 2017 report from The Australian newspaper The Age, died of a drug overdose in 2014.
Before his death, the deceased man reportedly told his mother at least twice that he had not been a victim of sexual abuse. The other former choir member reportedly told the deceased man’s mother only after the man died that both had been abused by Pell, The Age reported, citing a 2017 book on Pell by journalist Louise Milligan.
According to the prosecution, Pell and the choir members “went missing” from a recessional procession at the end of a Mass celebrated by the archbishop. Pell is alleged to have abused the choristers somewhere within the cathedral sacristy immediately following that Mass.
Milligan has reported that the abuse might have taken place in the early months of 1997, but sources told CNA that the prosecution identified a period between August and December 1996, shortly after Pell was installed as Melbourne’s archbishop.
In June 2017, a priest who says he was with the archbishop every time Pell celebrated Mass at Melbourne’s cathedral was questioned by police about a timeframe that seems to match the one identified by prosecutors.
The priest told police that there was no occasion when Pell would have been alone with choir members. “At no time before, during or after Mass was the Archbishop in direct contact with anyone except that I was present,’’ the priest said, according to The Australian.
“I was always standing next to him and usually at an arm’s length away.’’
Pell was known to habitually celebrate the 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass, at which the choir regularly sang, while he served as Archbishop of Melbourne.
However, Melbourne’s cathedral was undergoing restoration work at the time of his installation in August 1996, which prevented Pell from being installed in the cathedral building itself or from regularly celebrating Mass there for several weeks.
In fact, during the pre-trial committal hearing in March 2018, records were produced showing that during the period between August and December 1996, Pell only celebrated the cathedral’s 10:30 Sunday Mass twice.
According to a source present for the pre-trial hearing, on both of the occasions on which Pell celebrated the cathedral’s 10:30 Mass during the designated period, the choir held practices for the taping of a Christmas performance immediately following the 10:30 Mass, when the absence of two choristers would have been immediately noticed.
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Cathedral and choir leaders and former members testified at the pre-trial hearing that choir leaders kept a close eye on the children and would have noticed if any slipped away. Former choir director Peter Finigan testified at the committal hearing that while it would have been possible for two choir members to break from their group, he did not remember that it had ever happened.
“Two altos going missing would have stood out right away, as would their late arrival for the practice straight after Mass,” a source present at the committal hearing told CNA.
“That much was crystal clear.”
During the same committal hearing in March, a pastoral associate at the cathedral, Rodney Dearing, told the court that Pell required help to remove his vestments after every Mass, and it would have been nearly impossible for the archbishop to expose his genitals while fully vested, or to commit other sexual acts in the vestments.
Dearing also told Victoria police that the layout of the cathedral did not align with the accusations.
“I can’t understand, knowing the layout [of the cathedral] and how things worked, how it could have occurred,” Dearing told police, according to Australian media reports filed before a gag order on the trial was instituted.