MELBOURNE, March 13 (AGENCIES): Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Vatican official to be convicted of sex abuse to date, has been sentenced to six years in prison by an Australian court for the “callous” assault of two choirboys in the late 1990s.
A former senior adviser to Pope Francis, Pell, 77, was found guilty by a jury in December last year. The County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd, while delivering the sentence, described Pell’s abuse of two choirboys in the sacristy at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne as “a brazen and forcible sexual attack on the victims”.
“There was a clear relationship of trust with the victims and you breached that trust and abused your position to facilitate this offending,” the chief judge said. “The brazenness of your conduct is indicative of your sense of authority and power in relation to the victims,” he said. The chief judge said Pell’s abuse had had a “significant and long-lasting impact” on the wellbeing of one of his victims, whom he referred to as J. The chief judge said he did not have the benefit of a victim impact statement from his other victim, referred to as R, who died of a heroin overdose in 2014 and never reported the abuse.
“However on the basis of J’s account at trial I am able to say your offending must have had an immediate and significant impact on R,” Kidd said. “Whilst it is not possible for me to quantify the harm caused, or articulate precisely how it impacted on R in the long run, I have no doubt that it did in some way.” Pell will serve a minimum of three years and eight months in jail before he will be eligible for parole.
“I will impose a shorter non-parole period than I otherwise would have been inclined to impose in recognition in particular of your age, so as to increase the prospect of you living out the last part of your life in the community,” the chief judge said. Outside the court, survivors of Catholic sex abuse who had attended the hearing were divided on the sentence. Some felt it was too light, while others were happy to see justice being done. “I would have been happy with one month, one week,” one said. In a statement after the sentencing, the surviving victim said it was hard for him “to take comfort in this outcome.”
“There is no rest for me,” he said through his lawyer, Vivian Waller. “I’m doing my best to hold myself and my family together.” Until last month Pell held the role of Vatican treasurer, considered by many to be the third most senior position within the Roman Catholic church. Pell’s legal team has previously announced it will appeal his conviction on three grounds, including that the jury’s verdict on all five charges was unreasonable, based on the evidence submitted. The Court of Appeal is due to hear submissions in early June. Reporting of the trial and verdict was suppressed by the court to avoid prejudicing a second trial, which crown prosecutors abandoned in February after the judge ruled some prosecution evidence couldn’t be submitted.