[To see our complete list of accused bishops, click here.]

Auxiliary bishop of Melbourne 1987-1996; archbishop of Melbourne 1996-2001; archbishop of Sydney 2001-2014; elevated to cardinal 2003; Prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy 2014-2018. Retired October 2018, age 77. Died January 10, 2023.

Acquitted 4/7/2020 of sexual offenses against two 13-year-old choirboys after serving more than a year in prison.

Background: Pell had been convicted of the crimes on 12/11/ 2018, and in March 2019, he had been sentenced to six years in prison. [See Judge Peter Kidd’s Reasons for Sentence.] In early June 2019, he appealed the verdict to the Melbourne Court of Appeals, a division of the Supreme Court of Victoria. On 8/21/2019, the three-justice appeal panel announced it had dismissed Pell’s appeal 2 to 1. [See the Melbourne Court of Appeal’s Summary of Judgment and Reasons for Judgment, which includes the dissenting judge’s opinion, beginning on page 121.]

The cardinal appealed the ruling to Australia’s High Court, his defense counsel arguing that the appeal court’s judgment had “reversed the onus of proof.” In a brief but complicated ruling on 11/13/ 2019, a two-justice High Court panel neither granted nor denied Pell’s application for appeal. Instead, it ordered that both Pell’s request for appeal and his substantive argument for appeal be heard in a special sitting of the full bench.

In January and February 2020, both Pell’s defense counsel and prosecutors submitted written arguments to the High Court. The High Court’s full bench of seven justices held its hearing on 3/11 and 3/12/2020, with Pell’s counsel presenting its case first, followed by the prosecutor’s argument for retaining the appeal court’s ruling. The High Court then asked for further written submissions from both sides.

On 4/7/2020, the High Court issued its judgment. It unanimously allowed the appeal and “ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place.” Granting that the jury had assessed the complainant’s evidence “as thoroughly credible and reliable,” the Court wrote, “the evidence of the opportunity witnesses nonetheless required the jury, acting rationally, to have entertained a reasonable doubt” as to Pell’s guilt. Pell was immediately freed from prison. A brief Vatican communique ‘welcomed’ the High Court decision. It did not say whether it would now launch an internal investigation of the cardinal.

While the High Court ruling ended the criminal case involving the two teen choirboys, it did not preclude the possibility that the allegations would be considered again in civil courts. The father of choirboy “R,” who died of a heroin dose in 2014, said that he intended to sue Pell. This was expected to be one of several lawsuits that would be resolved in civil courts, where the standard of proof is lower. 

In addition to the alleged crimes for which he was put on trial, Pell was accused of child sexual abuse by at least five other men. One man reported his complaint to the church in 2002. Two others, Lyndon Monument and Damian Dignan, told Victoria police in 2015 or 2016 that then-Father Pell repeatedly molested them in a Ballarat swimming pool in the 1970s. On 4/2/2020, two other alleged victims appeared in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation TV program. Both said they were molested by Pell in the 1970s, when they were growing up in Ballarat’s Nazareth House, an orphanage run by the Sisters of Nazareth.

In August 2022, Victoria’s Supreme Court ruled against the church’s request to dismiss a lawsuit against Pell and the Melbourne archdiocese brought by the father of choirboy “R,” the alleged victim who died of a heroin overdose.

For a detailed chronology, see: Timeline of the Allegations and the Prosecution Faced by George Pell