Pell was alleged to have committed sexual abuse in 1996, when he was Archbishop of Melbourne, and when he was a priest in Ballarat during the 1970s.
His first trial, in which he was convicted, focused on the Melbourne allegations. The second trial, which has now been scuttled, was to focus on the Ballarat charges.
During preliminary hearings in March 2017, Pell’s legal team successfully petitioned for the allegations to be heard in two separate trials. Other charges initially brought against Pell were dropped during pre-trial committal hearings.
Pell was found guilty Dec. 11 on five charges of sexual abuse of minors, stemming from charges that he sexually assaulted two former members of the Melbourne cathedral choir.
The verdict came after a five-week retrial, after a jury in an earlier trial failed to reach an unanimous verdict. In October 2018, multiple sources close to the case told CNA that the first trial had ended with the jury deadlocked 10-2 in favor of Pell.
The second jury took three days to find Pell guilty of sexually abusing two choristers in the Melbourne cathedral sacristy on an unspecified date in the second half of 1996.
The sexual abuse was supposedly committed by Pell against the two choristers immediately following a 10:30 a.m. Sunday Mass in Melbourne’s cathedral. Pell was accused of abusing both choir members in the same incident, and of subsequently assaulting one of the boys in a cathedral corridor.
CNA reported after Pell was convicted that the evidence advanced by prosecution relied entirely on a single accuser, one of the alleged victims.
The second alleged victim did not give evidence in court. The court did hear evidence that the man told his mother at least twice that he had not been a victim of sexual abuse, before he died of a drug overdose in 2014.
The other former choir member, who did testify in court, reportedly told the deceased man’s mother only after the man died that both had been abused by Pell.
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 in 1996. Pell is alleged to have abused the choristers somewhere within the cathedral sacristy immediately following that Mass.
The defense’s legal team produced records that showed that during the period between August and December 1996, when the abuse was alleged to have taken place, Pell only celebrated the cathedral’s 10:30 Sunday Mass twice. The court also heard witness testimony that Pell had been with guests immediately following Mass on one of the two Sundays.
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According to evidence given at the pre-trial hearings in March 2018, on both of the Sundays at which Pell said the 10:30 Mass, the choir held practices for the taping of a Christmas performance immediately following Mass, when the absence of two choristers would have been immediately noticed.
Evidence was also presented which showed that the layout of the cathedral did not match the narrative of the prosecution. The court had previous heard evidence from a pastoral associate at the cathedral, Rodney Dearing, who testified 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.
During Pell’s trial, the judge reportedly excluded both the prosecution and the defense from disclosing to the jury or discussing in court anything which could bear upon the credibility of the accuser.
Court observers pointed to Pell’s decision not to testify as one possible reason the decision went against him.