• Cardinal George Pell is the most senior Catholic cleric to be convicted of sexual offences. (AP)Source: AP
It comes as the former Vatican treasurer spent his first night behind bars.
Julie Nimmo, Greg Dunlop

1 Mar 2019 - 10:25 AM  UPDATED 1 Mar 2019 - 10:25 AM

Wiradjuri Elder Elsie Heiss claims she had no knowledge Cardinal George Pell had been found guilty of child sex offences when she wrote a character reference in his support.

A jury unanimously concluded in December that the former Vatican treasurer abused two choir boys at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.

The verdict was kept secret from the public until this week and the news sent shock waves around the world. Pell is the most senior Catholic figure ever convicted of sexual abuse.

Ahead of the sentence being handed down on March 13, his lawyer Robert Richter QC submitted a binder of documents to the County Court of Victoria in Pell's defence.

It included character references from 10 high-profile people.

"These people love him; none of them believe he is capable of these offences," Mr Richter said.

"He is a person of the highest character, putting aside the convictions that were recorded."

One of the testimonials was from Mrs Heiss and was dated February 24.

“I am aware of the seriousness of this matter for Cardinal Pell and the Court and the consequences that are attached to the verdict,” she wrote.

Mrs Heiss, a retired co-ordinator of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, said that the senior church leader was always supportive.

She is the mother of prolific Indigenous writer Anita Heiss and has known Cardinal Pell for 20 years.

“Cardinal Pell's humility was displayed when he said Mass at the Reconciliation Church and in any number of dealings where he quietly helped the Aboriginal Catholics of Sydney with both moral and financial support,” Mrs Heiss wrote.

Former Head of Aboriginal Catholic Ministry convicted of child sex crimes
A well-known Aboriginal rights advocate and prominent figure in the Catholic archdiocese of Sydney has been sentenced to prison for historic offences of pedophilia.

Others who showed support for Pell following the guilty findings on five child-sex charges were former prime minister John Howard and Greg Craven, vice chancellor of the Australian Catholic University.

However, prosecutors argued that Pell's crimes warranted significant jail time.

Judge Peter Kidd said the abuse was "brazen", adding: "It did involve a breach of trust and a degree of impunity. How else did he think he was going to get away with it?"

In a statement provided to NITV, Mrs Heiss did not comment on her belief in the cardinal's guilt or innocence

“My thoughts and prayers today are firmly with the victims, their families and their journey of healing,” she said.

In a further statement, her daughter Anita told NITV: “My mother had no knowledge of the guilty verdict when she wrote the character reference, and as she has stated her thoughts and prayers are with the victims.”