It was 3.45pm on Tuesday, December 11 and there stood the foreman of a 12-strong jury, a grey-haired retiree aged in his late 60s.
Calmly but firmly he announced: “Guilty”.
The verdict would be declared four more times as a clerk listed the shocking charges against Cardinal George Pell.
The first charge concerned Pell, who was still the Vatican’s treasurer at the time of the trial, committing an indecent act against a choirboy, then aged 13, after a Sunday mass in 1996, in the priest’s sacristy of Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral.
Gasps were heard across room 4.3 at the County Court of Victoria as the verdict was handed down. For many it was a relief. For everyone it was shock.
Even Chief Judge Peter Kidd looked somewhat startled.
Pell lowered his gaze to the floor, his mouth agape while his large hands gripped his thighs. He turned so pale his skin looked almost alabaster against his black suit, the normally statuesque former football ruckman suddenly a shrinking old man, lost and fragile.
The reputation of one of the world’s most senior Catholics was officially in ruins; he’d just been declared a paedophile.
From that one word – “guilty” – the trajectory of Pell’s future turned sharply from career recovery and a return to Rome, towards the possibility of 10 years or more behind bars, with his infamous name marked on the Victorian Register of Sex Offenders.
Nuns ferrying Diet Coke and tasty Italian charcuterie to his Eminence in his 16th-century Vatican tower would soon be a distant memory, the comforts to be replaced by an itchy tracksuit in prison-issue green.
Pell would have known, too, in that instant that at the age of 77 – with his bad heart and other ailments – he might not make it through a term of imprisonment alive.
His usually charismatic solicitor, Paul Galbally, who normally wields a wide, confident smile, put his face in his hands and shook his head. He was facing in the cardinal’s direction at the bar table near the front of the court – but it was clear he couldn’t meet his client’s devastated eyes.
Two female abuse advocates watching began crying.
This reporter, who has covered this story for nearly four years, quietly began to shed tears, too; struck in particular by the incredible significance for the main brave complainant involved, now a young father, who had endured a marathon legal journey to reach this point.
That first verdict was also so emotionally charged because it related to a man who never had a voice in the legal proceedings.
The troubled victim died in 2014, aged 30, having never come to terms with the sudden and violent abuse by Pell, who had caught the teenager and his friend drinking stolen wine after mass.
As his friend had witnessed the abuse, the charge was allowed to be included without the victim’s testimony.
As a result, the tragedy behind this first verdict felt like a poignant and touching voice from the grave. Bittersweet justice for the former choirboy who could never have his day in court.
The jury found Pell had also attacked the second boy (the young father).
He had orally penetrated the child and then touched him while masturbating after catching the boy drinking wine with his friend.
Pell’s niece, the artist Sarah Pell, who briefly left the court, returned and reached out to hold her uncle’s hand in the dock.
He used to spoil her when as a small girl in Ballarat she knocked on the door of St Alipius Presbytery. But on this day he angrily shooed her away in a brief yet telling tantrum.
Pell’s temper had shown itself publicly for the first time in this gruelling 18-month case in which he had maintained poise.
Pell’s most high-profile supporter, former deputy prime minister Tim Fischer, had been at court to support Pell in the final days of the trial despite suffering from leukaemia. On that day he was absent.
But loyal supporters Katrina Lee and others remained poker-faced in their seats.
Father Brennan seemed to be a highly supportive friend to Pell throughout the legal process, having attacked the very notion of the police investigation in 2016.
At one point when Pell sat waiting for the verdict, eating sausage rolls and reading The Australian, Father Brennan was heard saying to him, “Wilson says hello”.
The former Archbishop of Adelaide, Philip Wilson, had just had his conviction for covering up child abuse quashed on appeal.
After the verdict it was declared that Pell would be remanded in custody and sentenced at a later date.
He was spared incarceration this time as he was booked in for a knee operation three days later in Sydney, where he has been staying in a seminary since arriving back in his home country in July 2017 for the legal case.
Even Robert Richter QC, Pell’s barrister whose closing speech took two whole days, was speechless as he stared at the jury box.
Winning this high-profile controversial case was to be his glorious swan song to a successful career representing the unpopular, including underworld figure Mick Gatto.
After the hung jury of the first trial in September, Pell’s legal team had been given a second chance to make the retrial a guaranteed winner, to save the cardinal from jail and permanent catastrophe.
Exoneration for Pell would have allowed Mr Richter, 73, to retire on a high note.
For this retrial the cardinal’s legal team had to regroup. It consisted of two barristers, solicitors and clerks and cost about $30,000 a day, funded by a mysterious “trust fund” of Catholic donors.
The defence fired off a meticulous and strong rebuttal that many in the media gallery believed had raised enough doubt to mean a conviction was near impossible.
But the increased forensic questioning and an added corporate-style PowerPoint presentation had ended in disaster for the defence.
Before dismissing the jury, including discharging them from further jury service for 10 years, Judge Kidd thanked them for the work they had done on what he described as an “onerous case”.
“I, for one, believe in the jury system. I think it’s terrific,” he said.
The judge then advised them not to share the deliberations they had made in the jury room, adding: “I have little doubt if you ever start talking about it to other people you will just never be able to win.”
As Pell left court he put on a brave face, but refused to answer questions from the breathless media pack that squeezed around him.
He walked to his car with his crutch, surrounded by police and his team of suits.
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