Australian Cardinal George Pell dies aged 81

The former choirboy who accused Pell at his trial and was known as Witness J said he understood it was difficult to satisfy a criminal court beyond the shadow of a doubt that child sexual assault offences occurred. The other former choirboy died before Pell was charged.

The high-profile case was one of the Australia’s most divisive and some media organisations went so far as to breach a court suppression order barring coverage of the trial.

The son of an Anglican gold miner and a devout Irish Catholic mother, Pell was talented both academically and at sports. At 18, he landed a contract to play professional Australian Rules football and played in the reserves for a club, but later chose to enter the seminary.

He went on to earn a doctorate in church history from Oxford and then became a parish priest in Ballarat.

A burly and imposing figure at 6.3 feet, Pell rose to prominence in the mid-1990s first as archbishop of Melbourne, then archbishop of Sydney in 2001.

Through the 1990s, the church increasingly came under attack for protecting priests and other church personnel who had committed sexual offences and for failing to support their victims.

Pell took pride in having set up one of the world’s first schemes to compensate victims of child sexual abuse in Melbourne. Critics, however, later told a government-appointed inquiry that the scheme was designed to persuade victims not to pursue legal action.

The inquiry, known as a Royal Commission, began in 2013 a five-year investigation into child sex abuse in the Catholic Church and other institutions.

It found the church and other institutions had repeatedly failed to keep children safe with cultures of secrecy and cover-ups. It also found that Pell was aware of child sex abuse by at least two priests in the 1970s and 1980s and had failed to take steps to get the priests removed.

The commission also said Pell should have looked into why Gerard Ridsdale, a priest who was subsequently convicted on more than 130 charges of sexually abusing children, was being moved from one parish to another during the 1970s and 1980s.

Pell told the commission he was unaware of Ridsdale’s offences until his 1993 conviction.

“It’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me,” he said. 

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