Vatican Cleric, Guilty Of Sexually Abusing Boys, Removed From Top Post

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Pell was convicted last December of abusing the two members of the St Patrick's Cathedral choir in 1996 after a Sunday church service, one of the first since Pell had been appointed archbishop of Melbourne.

Pell, now aged 77, was accused of cornering the boys - then aged 12 and 13 - in the cathedral's sacristy and forcing them to perform a sex act on him.

The Vatican on Tuesday insisted on Australian Cardinal George Pell's right to further defend himself but was keeping in place local church restrictions forbidding one of his most trusted advisers from having contact with children while appeals run their course.

A jury in the Country Court of Victoria in Melbourne found Pell guilty on December 11 past year following a four-week trial. The suppression order was lifted on Tuesday after prosecutors decided not to proceed with a second trial related to separate sex abuse allegations against the cardinal.

Lawyers for Pell, who maintains his innocence, have lodged an application for leave to appeal the convictions.

Criminal law expert Jeremy Gans of the University of Melbourne told AFP the judges could question the jury's conclusions based on the fact that the case was based on only one person's - the surviving victim's - testimony.

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Cardinal George Pell is seen at County Court in Melbourne, Australia, February 26, 2019, AAP Image/David Crosling/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Pell this morning arrived for the pre-sentence hearing to chaotic scenes as an angry mob screamed abuse at him outside court.

The Catholic Church worldwide has in recent years faced a damaging series of allegations relating to sex abuse by priests, and claims that these cases were covered up.

Mr Richter said he was in a hard position as Pell's lawyer, as his client maintained his innocence.

But critics say the institution is still moving too slowly in dealing with a problem that is global in scale and, at minimum, spans decades.

Guardian Australia understands if Pell loses his appeal the prime minister will write to the Council of the Order of Australia recommending it review and revoke the honour, a decision made on its recommendation by the governor general.

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Those consequences could include being defrocked or removed from the College of Cardinals.

Top defence barrister Robert Richter QC represented Pell in the trial, and during an earlier trial in which the jury was discharged after failing to reach a verdict.

These offences occurred in December 1996 and early 1997.

The historical offences each carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Around one in five Australians are Catholic, roughly five million people.

The verdict has been made public as the Catholic church tries to deal with a growing child sexual abuse crisis, following scandals in the United States, Chile, Germany and Australia.

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In a statement, Pope Francis's office said it was saddened by the news and that it awaits the outcome of the appeals process.