Cardinal George Pell arrives at the County Court in Melbourne, Australia February 26, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

Melbourne: Australian Cardinal George Pell, who helped elect popes and ran the Vatican’s finances, has been found guilty of sexually assaulting two choirboys, a court said Tuesday, becoming the most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sex crimes.

An Australian court found Pell guilty by a trial jury on one count of sexual abuse and four counts of indecent assault of two boys at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s.

Pell, now aged 77, was accused of cornering the boys — then aged 12 and 13 — in the cathedral’s sacristy and forcing them to perform a sex act on him.

The cleric denied all the charges and an initial trial ended with a hung jury in September, but he was convicted on retrial on December 11.

A wide-ranging gag order from the presiding judge had prevented the media from reporting even the existence of court proceedings and the ensuing trials since May.

The suppression order was lifted on Tuesday after prosecutors decided against proceeding with a planned second trial dealing with separate allegations against Pell.

Pell has steadfastly denied all the allegations against him, and his defence lawyer said he intends to appeal the conviction.

A pre-sentencing hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.