AUSTRALIAN Cardinal George Pell has been found guilty of sexually abusing two choirboys, making him the most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sex crimes.
Pell, 77, was found guilty of one count of sexual abuse and four counts of indecent assault of two underage boys at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s, following a secret trial in the city last December.
The landmark verdict can only now be revealed now after a court gag order banning media reporting of the case was lifted on Tuesday.
The conviction of the former Archbishop of Melbourne – who is the Vatican's treasurer and a close adviser to Pope Francis – has sent shockwaves through the Catholic Church just days after a historic Vatican summit on the escalating child sex abuse crisis facing its clergymen around the world.
Pell is expected to be jailed on Wednesday after a judge said his bail would be revoked during a pre-sentencing hearing this morning.
He was convicted based on the testimony of one of the victims, now in his 30s, who recalled how they were abused aged 13 while on scholarships to Melbourne's prestigious St Kevin's College.
Pell caught the pair swigging sacramental wine in the priest's sacristy following mass at St Patrick's Cathedral one Sunday in late 1996.
The newly-installed Archbishop of Melbourne scolded the boys, before exposing his penis from beneath his ceremonial robes and molesting the pair.
He forced one to perform oral sex on him, jurors were told. The other victim was unable to give evidence as he passed away in 2014.
In 2003, Pell was elected to the Vatican's powerful College of Cardinals – meaning he was able to vote in the conclaves that elected pontiffs Benedict and Francis.
Later in 2014, he was elected treasurer by Pope Francis to help make the Church's finances more transparent.
For decades, he denied being an abuser or covering up sex abuse but admitted he had "mucked up" in dealing with paedophile priests in the state of Victoria.
The Vatican said in December that Francis had removed Pell from his group of close advisers, without commenting on the secret trial.
Before his conviction, the most high-profile clerical sex abuse case in Australia was the conviction last May of the former Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, on charges of concealing crimes by a paedophile priest in the 1970s. He was later acquitted of all charges.
The convictions follow a five-year royal commission inquiry into institutional child abuse in Australia, which said in a report last year that over 1,800 Catholic priests, brothers, lay people, and religious sisters across the country had sexually abused tens of thousands of children in a "national tragedy" over many generations.