Senior Vatican official Cardinal George Pell has been sentenced to six years in prison for child sex abuse crimes.
Pell, the highest-ranking Catholic cleric worldwide to be convicted of child sex abuse, was sentenced in Australia on Wednesday morning. The 77 year old will now spend the rest of his life as a registered sex offender and will have to serve a minimum of three years and eight months before being eligible for parole.
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Melbourne County Court was packed with sexual abuse survivors including Pell’s surviving victim who is now in his 30s.
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He was raped by Pell in the priest’s sacristy after a Sunday mass in 1996 and forced to watch as Pell molested his 13-year-old friend, and was then molested again by Pell a month later.
The second victim died in 2014 following a heroin overdose.
The Mail Online reports: The former Vatican treasurer, 77, and top adviser to Pope Francis is the most senior Catholic figure ever to be found guilty of sex offences against children.
Cardinal Pell was found guilty last December of sexually abusing 13-year-old choir boys 22 years ago in the priests’ sacristy of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne.
On Wednesday morning Pell stared directly at a judge while he learned his fate – a non-parole period of three years and eight months which means he may die in jail.
In remarks broadcast live around the world from Melbourne County Court, Chief Judge Kidd called Pell’s crimes ‘breathtakingly arrogant’ and said the abuse has caused ‘long-term and serious harm.’
He said Pell’s age and lack of offending for 22 years meant he is not a danger to the community and is not likely to re-offend.
The judge also took into account Pell’s ailing health as he suffers from high blood pressure and congestive heart failure which requires him to have a pacemaker.
But because the disgraced cardinal still denies the abuse and is appealing the conviction, Judge Kidd said he had shown ‘no remorse or contrition’ which could have reduced the sentence.
Pell, who was until late February the Vatican’s treasurer and once considered a pope in waiting, will be on the sex offender register for the rest of his life.
After the sentence was passed, stony-faced Pell signed some paperwork and bowed before being escorted out of court to jail by five corrections officers.
Some in court embraced while police outside were given three cheers by sex abuse victims.
Pell’s surviving victim, who testified and was cross-examined at the trial, issued a statement through his solicitor saying he found it hard to take comfort in the verdict.
‘Being a witness in a criminal case has not been easy. I am doing my best to hold myself and my family together,’ said the victim.
Meanwhile, campaigners called the sentence lenient and a ‘disgrace’.
Abuse survivor Michael Advocate said: ‘It doesn’t send any deterrent, it doesn’t give the victims any sense of justice.
Referring to the non-parole period, he added: ‘Jail time of less than four years for destroying the lives of two innocent young boys – is their life only worth two years each?’
Mr Advocate said it gave sex abuse victims comfort to know that Pell will be behind bars tonight and added: ‘May Pell rot in his cell.’
The cardinal wore an open neck black shirt with no collar for the 70-minute sentencing – the first time he has been seen in public without the collar.
At the start of proceedings at 10am, Judge Kidd said Pell’s offending had a ‘profound impact’ on his victims.
But he made clear that Pell would receive the ‘stable hand of justice’ and told him ‘you are not to be made a scapegoat for any failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church.’
‘Nor are you being sentenced for any failure to prevent or report child sexual abuse by other clergy in the Catholic church,’ the judge added.
Judge Kidd said he accepted Pell’s lawyer’s argument that the abuse ‘involved opportunistic and spontaneous offending, rather than pre-planned or premeditated conduct.’
‘Had it been preplanned or involved grooming, it would have been more serious,’ he said.
Referring to the victims as J and R, he went into graphic details about the oral rape of one of the boys and the abuse of another in two incidents in 1996 and 1997.
The judge said the acts were conducted with ‘physical aggression and venom’ and said ‘it was by no means a minor indecent act.’
Judge Kidd said the boy who was sexually abused was ‘struggling and flailing’ during the act.
‘You moved from one victim to the other,’ he said.
Judge Kidd said the first episode in the priest’s sacristy involved a ‘brazen and forceful sexual attack on the two victims’.
‘The acts were sexually graphic. Both victims were visibly and audibly distressed during this offending,’ Judge Kidd said.
‘The obvious distress and objections of your victims is relevant to my assessment of the impact of your offending on (the victims).
‘There is an added layer of degradation and humiliation that each of your victims must have felt in knowing that their abuse had been witnessed by the other.’
The second episode was ‘brief and spontaneous’ but could not be viewed as an ‘isolated lapse’ as Pell had ample time to reflect on his previous abuse of one of the boys, the judge said.
‘Despite this, you still indecently acted against (the boy), and did so with what I consider to be a degree of physical aggression and venom,’ Judge Kidd said.
‘It was by no means a minor indecent act.’
Judge Kidd said by offending in such a ‘risky and brazen’ manner, it was inferred Pell was prepared to take such risks.
‘I conclude that your decision to offend was a reasoned, albeit perverted one, and I reach that conclusion to the criminal standard.’
Pell also abused his position by breaching the trust of his victims.
‘I find beyond reasonable doubt that, on the specific facts of your case, there was a clear relationship of trust with the victims, and you breached that trust and abused your position to facilitate this offending,’ the judge said.
Judge Kidd rejected Pell’s defence argument the crimes were committed by Pell the man, not the archbishop.
‘Your obvious status as Archbishop cast a powerful shadow over this offending,’ he said.
‘I would characterise these breaches and abuses as grave.’
Talking about Pell’s role as Archbishop of Melbourne, the judge said: ‘There was breach of trust and you abused your position to facilitate the offending.
‘You were a pillar of St Patrick’s community by virtue of your role as Archbishop. Victim J gave evidence that the choirboys were expected to show reverence in your presence.
‘The evidence shows that you were profoundly revered, Cardinal Pell, which imbued you with and legitimised your authority.
‘As Archbishop, you did have a relationship of approval in relation to the choirboys. In part, the choirboys were performing to please you as Archbishop.’
The judge added: ‘There was evidence that you would, from time to time, visit the robing room to congratulate the boys on their singing. The choirboys were the least powerful and the most subordinate individuals at the Cathedral.
‘The victims themselves were 13 years of age. The power imbalance between the victims and all the senior church leaders or officials, yourself included, was stark.’