Australian Catholic Cardinal George Pell arrives at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Melbourne, Australia, on May 1. Photo by Daniel Pockett/EPA-EFE
Dec. 13 (UPI) -- Cardinal George Pell, one of Pope Francis' closest advisers, has been convicted in an Australian court on five counts related to the abuse of two choirboys in 1996.
Pell, 77, currently on a leave from his post as the Vatican's economy secretary, was charged last year for "historical sexual assault offenses" by Australian police.
Tuesday, he was found guilty on the charges in a Melbourne court. The conviction was the result of a retrial for Pell, after a first jury in September couldn't reach a verdict for the former archbishop. The verdict makes him the highest-ranking Vatican official to face such a conviction.
Australian news media have been barred by a judge from reporting on the details of Pell's trial, fearing prejudice. Several outlets, including America magazine, reported the verdict. The Catholic News Agency, citing a source close to Pell, reported he was convicted Tuesday.
Pell was released on bail after his conviction. He will be sentenced in February. The clergyman is scheduled to face a second trial in early next year involving a different incident, possibly in February or March.
Wednesday, Pope Francis removed Pell from the Vatican's Council of Cardinals, but it wasn't clear if he still holds his economy secretary's post.
Two other members of the pope's council, retired archbishop Cardinal Laurent Monsengwo Pasinya of Kinshasa, 79, and Chile's Francisco Errázuriz Ossa, 85, also were removed from the group. Ossa has been blamed for hiding abuse while serving as archbishop of Santiago.
Pope Francis had named Pell to the council, or Council of Cardinals, in 2013. Before that, he served as archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001 and Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 until moving to the Vatican in 2014.