The Vatican has banned convicted paedophile George Pell from saying Mass or having contact with children but will not consider defrocking the cardinal until the appeals process is completed.

Pell, 77, was found guilty by a jury in December of orally raping a 13-year-old choirboy in 1996 and molesting another at St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne.
Acting Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti read a brief statement late on Tuesday but took no questions about the conviction.

The conviction of Pell, who had been appointed by Francis to be the Vatican’s treasurer, risks further staining the pontiff’s already spotty record on cracking down on credibly accused clergy and over transparency on church handling of high-profile cases.

In 2016, reports emerged that Australian police were investigating abuse allegations against Pell that involved minors. But the Pope allowed the cardinal then to stay on in his Vatican roles as Francis’ leading financial adviser and as the Holy See’s economy chief, without any restrictive measures.

After Pell left Rome in the northern summer of 2017 to defend himself, Australian church authorities forbade Pell from publicly saying Mass or having contact with children.

“In order to ensure the course of justice, the Holy Father has confirmed the precautionary measures which had been imposed by the local Ordinary on Cardinal George Pell when he returned to Australia,” Gisotti said.

Thus, he said, while awaiting “definitive assessment of the facts” Pell is “prohibited from exercising public ministry and from having any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors”.

On Wednesday, Pell is due to face Chief Judge Peter Kidd for a plea hearing, where pre-sentencing submissions will be presented by both crown and defence legal teams.

He is also listed to make a bail application in the Court of Appeal on Wednesday afternoon.

Lawyers for Pell, who maintains his innocence, have lodged an application for leave to appeal the convictions.

Francis had tapped Pell as his economy minister in 2014, early in his papacy, even though some allegations against the Australian were known at that time. Pell’s term in that role runs out this year.

The verdict represented “painful news that, as we are well aware, has shocked many people, not only in Australia”, Gisotti said, adding that the Vatican is awaiting “the outcome of the appeals process, recalling that Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence and has the right to defend himself until the last stage of appeal”.

Pope Francis has in some cases cast doubt on victims’ allegations of abuse and cover-ups against high-profile clergy, including a notable case in Chile.

Earlier this month, Francis expelled former US Cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the priesthood after a Vatican trial found the churchman guilty of sexual abuse of minors and adults, including in the confessional.

The Pell and McCarrick cases drastically escalate the gravity and reach of the sexual abuse scandals for the Vatican, where last week bishops from around the world met to map prevention strategies.