They were two young choirboys wearing oversized red and white robes, children on the cusp of their teenage years and simply looking for some fun.
All they wanted was a brief escape from spending several hours rehearsing and singing in the choir amid the strict 1996 Sunday regimen at St Patrick’s Cathedral, East Melbourne.
Singing in the choir was part of the deal that allowed the boys to attend the prestigious St Kevin’s College in Toorak on scholarships. Their families could not otherwise afford the fees.
It was sing up or ship out.
Feeling stifled by the regimen, the two boys escaped from the well-ordered procession after mass, searching for adventure in the corridors at the back of the cathedral, soon finding some sacred wine inside the priest’s sacristy.
Yes it was naughty, but they didn’t deserve the “punishment” inflicted when they were caught as they swigged down the wine – a punishment that a jury has found included vile sexual gratification and intimidation during a terrifying six-minute brutal sex attack by a man they and their parents trusted.
A man the whole of the Catholic community in Melbourne revered as God’s representative in their city; Dr George Pell, the dynamic newly installed archbishop.
Today, one choirboy is lying in a grave after dying five years ago, aged 30.
Another is a young professional father struggling to cope mentally with the memories of what unfolded in the priest’s sacristy, and the subsequent legal process that has dominated his life for nearly four years.
At the time of the attack 23 years ago, Pell, then 55, was an athletic former footballer who had rapidly risen the ranks from seminary training and junior priesthood into the upper echelons of the Australian Catholic Church.
He was a hugely ambitious and loud figure towering over his congregation.
During the Cathedral Trial, as it was called – five weeks of hearings and a hung jury in September, followed by a retrial and a guilty verdict in December – Crown prosecutor Mark Gibson urged the jury to consider that it was entirely reasonable for two choristers to be tempted by the idea of escaping after mass to “have some fun”.
“It’s perfectly understandable, having rehearsed from 9.30am to just after midday … over two and a half hours of the required discipline and then the prospect of another rehearsal … there is the incentive to nick off and have some fun,” Mr Gibson said.
Mr Gibson quoted the young father, describing in detail what he alleged Pell did to him and his friend at the time.
He told how in the first incident Pell forced him into oral sex, and made him watch his young friend being indecently assaulted beforehand.
He quoted how the former choirboy did not tell anyone about what happened at the time as he was afraid it would affect his scholarship.
“I was proud to be at that school,” Mr Gibson quoted from the accuser.
“My parents were going through a divorce at the time and that school meant so much to my family.
“I was young and I didn’t really know what happened to me. I didn’t know what it was, if it was normal.”
The accuser had told the court by video link that it would have been a “pretty big deal” to lose the scholarship, which he feared would happen if he lodged a complaint.
“I didn’t want to lose that [scholarship]. It meant so much to me,” the statement read.
“And what would I do if I went forward and said such things about an archbishop? It’s something I’ve carried for the whole of my life.
“It took courage for me to even think about coming forward.”
Mr Gibson rejected the arguments by the defence that it was impossible for Pell to have exposed his private parts while wearing his heavy formal robes.
When news came of the guilty verdict in December, detectives from the specially formed Sano Task Force informed the two families by telephone.
“We heard, it’s great news,” said a family member of the deceased choirboy to The New Daily shortly after the verdict.
“His mother is still struggling,” the family member revealed.
“She’s pleased with the result, but it doesn’t bring back her son.”
The New Daily is not identifying the men in accordance with protecting the identity of those who have suffered sexual assault.
A source close to the family of the surviving accuser told The New Daily the strain of the legal process has left him in “a very bad place”.
“He has been bruised by this, not just the attack, which has haunted him his whole life, but the whole police investigation and then having to be questioned in court.
“But he gets strength from his family, especially his wife.”
During the first trial Pell’s barrister, Robert Richter, QC, grilled the surviving accuser for two days.
He accused him of “making up” the allegations, suggesting it became a “false memory”.
Mr Richter was banned by the judge from accessing the accuser’s medical records.
The mother and sister of the deceased choirboy had no idea about the abuse by Pell until they were informed by the surviving choirboy after his death. But they have told friends that it “makes sense” in terms of his downward spiral into drug abuse.
He had always had a rebellious streak, having been ejected from the choir after the attack for poor discipline, and became addicted to heroin while still at school.
But it was the abuse by Pell the family believe led to his death.
“They believe he never recovered from what happened to him,” the source said.
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