Father of choirboy sexually abused by Pell reveals son’s struggle

‘He was a different boy’: Father of one of the choirboys sexually abused by George Pell reveals how his life spiralled out of control and was using heroin within a year of the abuse

  • The family of one of George Pell’s victims has detailed how their son changed
  • Within a year of the attack, the boy was using heroin and was ‘a different boy’
  • He did not admit the abuse to anyone, and his family had no idea what happened
  • A year after his funeral in 2014, Pell’s other victim filed a police report 
  • Pell found guilty of one count of rape and four of indecent assault in December 
  • He is Australia’s top Catholic and most senior to ever be accused of sex abuse 
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The family of a man who was abused by Cardinal George Pell as a teenager have revealed how the assault sent him into a sharp downwards spiral before he eventually died from a heroin overdose aged 30

The family of a man who died of a heroin overdose 17 years after he was sexually assaulted by Cardinal George Pell have revealed their son’s downward spiral after the abuse.

The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was in the choir at St Kevin’s College in Toorak, having been admitted to the prestigious school on a choir scholarship.

He loved to sing, and his father told Four Corners he had been a ‘lovely boy’ devoted to his family.  But in December 1996, he and his friend, both 13, were caught playing in the sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral after Sunday Solemn Mass.

His friend told the County Court in Victoria Pell had walked in and said: ‘Something like, “What are you doing here” or “You’re in trouble”,’ before grabbing the boy’s head and pulling it towards his exposed penis. 

The friend told the court Pell turned to him next, forcing him to perform oral sex before fondling him as he masturbated. 

Changes in the young boy were almost instant. 

‘His schoolwork, I noticed that it started slipping. His whole attitude changed. His whole being just, he was a different boy,’ the father of the deceased choirboy said said. 

Within a year of the abuse taking place, the boy had left his prestigious school, as had his friend, and turned to heroin. 

The choirboy and his friend, both 13 at the time, had ‘nicked off’ after a Sunday solemn mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral (pictured) in 1996 when Pell found them in the priest’s sacristy and assaulted them

Both boys had been given scholarships to the prestigious St Kevin’s College in Toorak, but left the school shortly after the abuse 

His father told the program he and the boys grandparents had noticed there were burnt pieces of foil around the house, but his mother said the teenager never revealed his ordeal to them. 

She said she recalls asking her son twice if anyone had touched him, and both times he had denied the abuse. 

The heartbroken mother said it was ‘devastating to watch your child spiral out like that’. 

‘It’s very hard to watch,’ she said. 

  • Archbishop of Sydney tells parishioners not to be ‘too quick… The ‘Pac-Man’ video that could clear George Pell: Shamed…

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In 2014, the man, at the age of 30, died of a heroin overdose. His parents would not find out what had caused their beloved son’s downfall until a year later. 

Speaking to journalist Louise Milligan ahead of the trial for her book Cardinal, the family revealed his childhood friend, who had also endured Pell’s abuse but not been seen with his old friend in years, turned up at the funeral. 

A year later, he filed a formal complaint with Victoria Police against George Pell, both for him and his old friend. 

The County Court in Victoria heard Pell had told the boys ‘you’re in trouble’ before grabbing ones head and pulling it towards his exposed penis 

Pell has maintained his innocence, and will appeal the trial after he is sentenced on March 13 (pictured: The sacristy at St Patrick’s) 

The man told the mother of his friend that attending his funeral had been the straw that broke the camel’s back. 

Sadness and regret had consumed him in the wake of the 30-year-old’s death, and he knew it was time to take action. 

In December 2018, Cardinal George Pell was found guilty of one count of rape and four counts of indecent assault by a jury. 

The decision was suppressed until February, when a second trial was thrown out after issues with evidence, and Pell will be sentenced in March. 

Pell, who is Australia’s top catholic and the most senior member of the clergy to face allegations of historical sexual assault, has said he will appeal the conviction as soon as he is sentenced. 

Defense attorneys for Cardinal George Pell say the jury could not have found the senior Catholic guilty ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ based on the testimonial evidence of just one person 

The father of the man who died before he could see his attacker be brought to justice said he is glad to finally know what happened to his son.   

‘I’m glad that it’s over and it gives me an idea of why my son went through hell. Why he did the things he did,’ he said

‘And myself, I’m just disgusted. I’m disgusted in the Catholic Church.’

For his mother, the pain is ongoing.  

‘I shouldn’t have lost my son like that,’ she told Ms Milligan before the trial. 

‘And nobody else should either. And it’s wrong.’ Her lip quivers. ‘This is something I live with now. This is something that kills me a little bit every day. And it kills me.’

Despite a criminal case being thrown out earlier this year, another man who says he was molested by Pell in the 70s has launched a civil case against Pell and the church in the Supreme Court in Melbourne.   

The suit, to be lodged on Monday, names Pell, the trustees of Nazareth House, (formerly St Joseph’s), the State of Victoria and the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne, The Herald Sun reported.

‘This is painful news’: The Vatican’s full statement on the Pell verdict 

The Holy See agrees with the statement issued by the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference regarding the sentence of guilt in the first instance concerning Cardinal George Pell. 

This is painful news that, as we are well aware, has shocked many people, not only in Australia. As already expressed on other occasions, we have the utmost respect for the Australian judicial authorities.

Out of this respect, we await the outcome of the appeals process, recalling that Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence and has the right to defend himself until the last stage of appeal. 

While awaiting the definitive judgement, we unite ourselves with the Australian bishops in praying for all victims of abuse, and reaffirm our commitment to do everything possible so that the Church might be a safe home for all, especially for children and the most vulnerable.

In order to ensure the course of justice, the Holy Father has confirmed the precautionary measures which had been imposed by the local Ordinary on Cardinal George Pell when he returned to Australia. 

That is, while awaiting the definitive assessment of the facts, as is the norm, Cardinal George Pell is prohibited from exercising public ministry and from having any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors.

The 50-year-old man was a resident in St Joseph’s Boys Home in Ballarat from February 1974 to 1978 and says he was abused by Pell during that period.

He was a complainant against Pell in a second trial over allegations Pell indecently assaulted boys in Ballarat in the 1970s. The case was abandoned by prosecutors after a court deemed vital evidence inadmissible; with the man saying he was left devastated by the decision.

‘It took a lot of courage and soul searching to be prepared to tell my story, accusing one of the most senior Catholics in the world of serious criminal offences, and eventually I was ready to have my day in court,’ he told the paper.

‘But when I was told they had withdrawn the case I felt empty, and that an injustice had occurred.’

The man’s lawyer Lee Flanagan said at least three other witnesses would testify they suffered similar abuse at the hands of the cardinal.

‘There was a fourth witness, but he died after charges were laid against Pell. We may seek to tender his statement into evidence in this case,’ Mr Flanagan said. 


Cardinal George Pell, 77, was found guilty of sexually assaulting two teenage choirboys inside St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in December 1996. 

His trial lasted 24 days, most of which was heard in open court. The complainant’s evidence was heard in closed court, meaning it cannot be reported on. 

Pell, Australia’s top Catholic and the most senior church official to be charged with historical child sex crimes, will be sentenced on March 13. He is expected to launch an appeal immediately after.  

DAY ONE – Thursday November 8, 2018

Cardinal George Pell’s retrial begins after a jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict in September.

Prosecutors allege that after Sunday solemn mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, two choirboys sneaked away from the procession outside and re-entered the cathedral via a side door.

It is then claimed the two boys entered a priest’s sacristy, where they started swigging at the sacramental wine, before being ‘caught’ by Pell.

It is then alleged that the newly installed archbishop of the Melbourne diocese, still in his ornamental robes, sexually assaulted the pair.

Pell’s defence team argues the Cardinal has been unfairly targeted by media, which ‘portrayed him as the Darth Vader of the Catholic Church’.


Court is closed to the media and public while the complainant gives evidence.

DAY FIVE – Wednesday November 14

Jury, made of eight men and four women, is taken to St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne to see the sacristy where Pell is accused of orally raping the complainant and molesting another child.

Two former choirboys gave pre-recorded evidence claiming after mass, with one telling the court the choirboys would get changed and go home, but would interact with Pell, who was always robed on Sundays, before mass, and the other saying he could not recall Pell being alone after Sunday solemn mass.

Pictured: The priest’s sacristy at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, where Cardinal George Pell is alleged to have sexually assaulted two boys in 1996

DAY SIX – Thursday November 15

Former choirmaster and organist, John Mallinson, 84, tells the court the master of ceremonies at the time, Monsignor Charles Portelli, was a ‘stickler’ and would have been very focused on keeping control of the choir’s exit.

He said he had seen Pell returning to his sacristy following mass ‘probably frequently’, but said he was usually accompanied by Monsignor Portelli or Dean William McCarthy.

DAY SEVEN – Friday November 16

Organist Geoffrey Cox told the court there was a ‘regimented and disciplined’ procedure for choristers after mass at the cathedral, and there was ‘no deviation’.

Mr Cox said if a chorister was running late back to the rehearsal room after mass, they would have to ring a bell and someone would let them in.

‘But that didn’t really happen at all,’ he said.

DAY EIGHT – Monday November 19

Sacristan Max Potter, who was in charge of the sacristy at St Patrick’s, concedes it is possible Pell was alone during the times the choirboys said they were molested, and that sacramental wine, which the boys claimed to have been drinking before they were assaulted, was sometimes left out between masses.

Choirmaster Peter Michael Finnigan said the boys would have been in the front third of the procession when leaving the mass, making it hard for them to escape unnoticed, but as there was no roll-call after the mass, it is possible they had done it.

DAY NINE – Tuesday November 20

Mr Potter, the sacristan, explained the elaborate robes Pell would have been wearing for the service made it only ‘inhumanly possible’ for the then-Archbishop to have exposed himself through the robes.

Monsignor Charles Portelli told the court he could only remember two occasions over five years where he had not assisted Pell with his robing and disrobing, but noted he had been using the priest’s sacristy, where the offending is alleged to have taken place, not the archbishop’s sacristy, to dress.

DAY 10 – Wednesday November 21

Former chorister David Dearing said the procession lines the choir left the church in got ‘a bit rowdy’ once the group was out of public view, and it was ‘game on to get out of there and go home’.

Another former choirboy, Anthony Nathan, said in his time in the choir, which was during the period of offending, he had only seen a boy leave the procession lines once, to rush to the bathroom to be sick.

Neither could recall seeing or hearing about anyone ever sneaking away from the line unnoticed.

DAY 11 – Thursday November 22

Two older members of the choir, who would have been behind the two boys when they ‘nicked off’ from the processional lines to drink wine in the sacristy, told the court they would have seen the pair, and did not remember having done so.

Rodney Dearing said the boys would have been spotted, but had earlier admitted the choristers would bunch up as they neared a point at a rear building.

‘I couldn’t see half the choir,’ he said.

Pell, who was until now Australia’s top Catholic, was the Archbishop of Melbourne at the time of the offending, and celebrating  mass at St Patrick’s  (pictured)

DAY 12 – Friday November 23

Former St Patrick’s Cathedral choirboy Christopher Doyle testifies while the procession of boys leaving the church after mass became more relaxed out of public view it would be tricky for anyone to slip away unnoticed.

Mr Doyle said he ‘never’ saw anyone leave the procession, nor did he ever hear about it happening.

‘We would have talked about it, absolutely,’ he said.

DAY 13 – Monday, November 26

Barrister Daniel McGlone, who was an altar server at St Patrick’s Cathedral from 1987 to 1997, says the priest’s sacristy was a public space.

He said it was best to think of it as a ‘green room’ where people would congregate before and after mass.

Mr McGlone said the sacristy was busy after a ceremony or mass with altar servers going back and forth to collect items from the sanctuary, claiming there was ‘always someone there’.

DAY 14 – Tuesday, November 27

Pell’s 45-minute-long interview with police in Rome is played to the jury, where the Cardinal describes the allegations against him as ‘a product of fantasy’, and ‘absolute and disgraceful rubbish’.

‘It’s vile and disgusting conduct contrary to everything I hold dear,’ Pell said in the interview.

He claimed he was most certainly greeting the public out the front at the time of the alleged offending and by the time he returned the choirboys had disrobed and gone home.

DAY 15 – Wednesday November 28

The jury is told that one of the choirboys allegedly molested in the incident died in 2014 in ‘accidental circumstances’.

Sgt Chris Reed said the man’s mother had asked him in 2001 if he’d ever been ‘interfered with or touched up’ while he was in the choir, and he had told her no.

He also said the man had told his father he’d never been ‘sexually assaulted or mistreated by any person’.


DAY 16 – Thursday November 29

Former choirboy Andrew La Greca tells the court older choristers would keep the younger members ‘in line’ during the procession out of the church, and that Brother Peter Finnigan was authoritarian and kept the choir under close watch.

He also said that to his recollection, any time Pell was in his ceremonial robes, he was accompanied by the master of ceremonies.

DAY 17 – Friday November 30

Sgt Reed admits he had no jurisdiction to conduct a formal interview outside Australia, when he flew to Rome to interview Pell at the Vatican.

He said he conducted the interview ‘by agreement’. When Mr Richter asked if he had been invited, the sergeant confirmed, and agreed Pell had returned to Australia to face trial voluntarily.

DAY 18 – Monday December 3

Mr Gibson wraps up the prosecution case, telling jurors there were opportunities for the offending to have occurred, and quoting the choirboy’s testimony when explaining why it took decades for him to come forward.

‘It’s something I’ve carried for the whole of my life… It took a courage much later in life for me to even think about coming forward,’ Mr Gibson quoted to jurors.

He pointed out the surviving boy knew details about the sacristy that he could not know without having been inside it at that time, including recollections of wood panelling and an alcove where wine was kept.

Mark Gibson SC, crown prosecutor against Cardinal George Pell, said the complainant had details about the sacristy in the cathedral he could not otherwise know

DAY 19 – Tuesday December 4

Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter QC, tells the court in closing arguments nobody could support the surviving choirboy’s claims, and that the man’s evidence was ‘fanciful’ and possibly embellished to the point where he now believed it.

‘There is no support by a single witness for (the complainant’s) version of events,’ he told the jury.

‘Only a madman would attempt to rape boys in the priest’s sacristy immediately after Sunday solemn mass,’ he said, standing in front of a large projector screen displaying the same words.

Pell volunteered to be questioned by police in Rome after he was confronted with the allegations and Mr Richter told the jury they could see from video footage of that interview that he experienced ‘genuine shock’ and a sense of ‘I can demonstrate that’s impossible’.

Mr Richter said it was not possible for Pell to have been robed and alone when the incidents allegedly took place

DAY 20 – Wednesday December 5

Mr Richter continues his closing arguments, using a powerpoint presentation.

He claimed 10 ‘independently impossible’ events would have to have occurred within the same 10-minute window in order for the offending to have happened and gone unnoticed.

Robert Richter QC, who acted for Pell, said the Cardinal should not become a scapegoat for the Catholic Church

Mr Richter’s list included that 40 or more people would have to not notice the two boys slip away from the procession, that Pell must have been alone and robed in the sacristy and that no other priests or altar servers were moving between the sanctuary and the priest’s sacristy as was their practice after mass.

Mr Richter closed his remarks asking jurors to consider the allegations against Pell as an individual, reminding them that Australia’s most senior Catholic and third ranking in the church globally, was not on trial for the failings of various clerics.

DAY 21 – Thursday December 6

Judge Peter Kidd tells jurors to think with their heads not their hearts, to act dispassionately in their decision making, and ensure they do not ‘scapegoat’ Cardinal Pell.

‘You mustn’t in any way be influenced by knowledge you might have of childhood sexual abuse in the Catholic Church or cover-ups of abuse in the Catholic Church,’ he said.

The jury began deliberating in the afternoon.

DAYS 22-23

Jury deliberations continue.

DAY 24 – Tuesday December 11

Pell is found guilty of one count of sexual penetration of a child and four charges of committing indecent acts with or in the presence of a child.

As the jury foreperson read out the verdicts, Pell frowned and hung head his head low.

Judge Kidd allowed Pell’s bail to be continued until a plea hearing, after Mr Richter said the cardinal needed surgery to replace both knees. 

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