The Vatican will open its own investigation into the case of disgraced cardinal George Pell, who was jailed on Wednesday after being convicted of five child sex offences in Australia.
The process by the Vatican’s doctrinal department, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) could result in 77-year-old Pell being defrocked, if found guilty.
Pell, the most senior Catholic priest to be convicted for child sex offences, maintains his innocence and plans to appeal.
“After the guilty verdict in the first instance concerning Cardinal Pell, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) will now handle the case following the procedure and within the time established by canonical norm,” Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti told reporters.
A similar internal “administrative process” last month found Theodore McCarrick, a former cardinal who had served as archbishop of Washington DC, guilty of sexual abuse of both minors and adults. He was removed from the priesthood.
Vatican officials released a statement adding that Pell is prohibited from exercising public ministry or having any contact with minors.
Pell’s guilty verdict was made public Tuesday after a suppression order in Australia was lifted, revealing he had been convicted last December of five sexual offences for orally raping a choirboy and molesting and assaulting another boy in the priests’ sacristy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, where Pell served as archbishop in the 1990s.
Describing Pell’s behaviour as “callous, brazen and shocking” Judge Kidd suggested Pell had a sense of impunity about his crimes, saying: “How else did he think he would get away with this?”
Pell’s sentencing is set for March 13, and the case is expected to increase pressure on Pope Francis, who wrapped up a four-day summit on Sunday pledging to wage “all-out battle” against the crime that has sullied the Church’s credibility in countries across the world.