MELBOURNE, Australia — Cardinal George Pell has reportedly been transferred out of the Melbourne prison in which he has been incarcerated for more than a year after a drone illegally flew over the prison grounds.
According to the Herald Sun newspaper, Cardinal Pell was moved out of Melbourne Assessment Prison after a drone flew over the prison garden in an apparent attempt to capture footage of him working in the prison garden. A spokesperson for the Australian Justice Department confirmed the drone flight in a statement released to media on Monday.
The cardinal has now been transferred to a maximum-security prison southwest of the city.
Cardinal Pell had been in the Melbourne prison, located within the downtown area of the city, since his sentencing in December of 2018 on five counts of sexual abuse. For his own safety, Cardinal Pell has been kept in solitary confinement, although one of his tasks was to tend to a prison garden. On Christmas Eve, a group of about two dozen local Catholics had gathered outside the Melbourne prison to pray and sing Christmas carols for him.
He is now at HM Prison Barwon, a maximum-security prison southwest of Melbourne that holds some notorious crime bosses.
Cardinal Pell, the former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney, was appointed by Pope Francis to head the Vatican’s Prefecture for the Economy in 2014 and oversee the Vatican’s finances.
In 2013, Victoria Police opened Operation Tethering, an open-ended investigation into possible crimes by Cardinal Pell, although no victims had come forward against him and there had been no criminal complaints made against him at the time. Although they had found no victims or criminal accusations, in 2015 the program was expanded and put on a more formal footing.
In 2017, Cardinal Pell was charged with sexually abusing two minors, and left Rome to return to Melbourne and stand trial. He was convicted in 2018 on the evidence of a single victim-accuser, the second supposed victim died of a heroin overdose on April 8, 2014 – one week after the Victoria police email exchange. That second victim had denied on several occasions that he was sexually abused by Pell.
The cardinal’s conviction was upheld on appeal by the Victoria Supreme Court in August. The Australian High Court will hear Pell’s appeal of that decision in 2020.
Barwon Prison, which Cardinal Pell has been transferred to, has held some high-profile criminals including Pasquale Barbbaro, a drug importer and boss of the Australian branch of the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta mafia group.
Mario Condello, a member of the rival gang Carlton Crew, was also incarcerated at Barwon for charges of arson, fraud, and drug trafficking before his murder outside the prison in 2006 after he won bail and during his trial. The prison’s supermax Acacia Unit holds Matthew Johnson, known for brutally murdering gangland boss Carl Williams.