MELBOURNE, Australia, March 13, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Cardinal George Pell was sentenced yesterday in a Melbourne court to six years in jail on five convictions of the sexual abuse of minors. The Cardinal has steadfastly maintained his innocence.
Judge Peter Kidd also ruled Pell could not be paroled for three years and eight months, telling the 77-year-old prelate he may die in jail, and describing the offences as “brazen and forceful” and “breathtakingly arrogant,” reported the Guardian.
“Facing jail at your age in these circumstances must be an awful state of affairs for you,” the judge said. You “may not live to be released from prison,” he said.
Pell will be placed in protective custody and only interact with “vetted inmates” during mealtimes and exercise because his safety is considered “at risk” due to “his profile and the nature of his crimes,” reported Lexology.
He will also be a registered sex offender for life.
Pell has maintained his innocence throughout. His lawyers have launched an appeal based on the grounds the jury’s guilty verdict was “unreasonable” because it was not supported by evidence.
The appeal will be heard June 5 and 6, according to Vatican News.
Pell was convicted in December of orally raping one 13-year-old choirboy and sexually abusing another after Sunday High Mass in the sacristy of Melbourne’s cathedral in 1996, and of sexually abusing one of the pair again in a cathedral corridor months later.
The formal convictions are one charge of sexually penetrating a child under 16 and four counts of committing an indecent act on a child under 16. A previous trial in September on the same charges ended with a hung jury, with 10 of the 12 supporting acquittal.
In a hearing broadcast live across the world from the courthouse Wednesday, Kidd described Pell’s conduct as “permeated with staggering arrogance” and said his offences were “made significantly more serious because of the surrounding or contextual circumstances – namely the breach of trust and abuse of power.”
Holding a cane, Pell sat silently in the dock between two police during the judge’s remarks, reported the Guardian.
Pell is the most senior cleric to be convicted of child sexual abuse, and as Vatican treasurer and one-time member of Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals (C9), was considered the third-most powerful man in the Vatican when charged with multiple counts of sexual offenses in July 2017. He returned voluntarily to Australia to face the charges.
“In my view, 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,” Kidd said.
“Your decision to offend was a reasoned, albeit perverted, one,” the judge said. “Certainly you were confident your victims would not complain … the offending which the jury has found you have engaged in was, on any view, breathtakingly arrogant.
“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 choirboys were the least powerful and the most subordinate individuals at the cathedral. The power imbalance between the victims and all the senior church leaders or officials, yourself included, was stark.”
Kidd, who ruled the sentencing hearing be broadcast for the sake of “open justice,” acknowledged the public mood in Australia, which has led many of Pell’s supporters, including his friend American writer George Weigel, to denounce Pell’s prosecution as a witch-hunt.
Kidd maintained, however, that Pell's sentence was given “without fear or favour,” the Guardian reported.
“There has been extraordinary and widespread publicity and public comment which has surrounded you for a number of years,” Kidd said.
“Some of this publicity has involved strong, trenchant and sometimes emotional criticism of you. Indeed, it is fair to say that in some sections of the community you are a publicly vilified figure,” he said.
“We have witnessed, outside of this court and within our community, examples of a witch-hunt or a lynch mob mentality in relation to you, Cardinal Pell. I utterly condemn such behaviour.”
The Vatican has opened its own investigation into the allegations against Pell. The decision was made by Pope Francis given Pell’s high standing, reported the Jesuit America Magazine.
The CDF will decide based on its investigations whether to proceed to a canonical trial or administratively, that is, forgo a trial and ask the pope to defrock Pell, an eventuality from which there is no appeal, reported CNN.
Pell’s conviction has polarized Australia, with many hailing his downfall and others saying it is a devastating travesty of justice, reports CruxNow.
Pell’s convictions in December were under a publication ban until February, when a second trial, based on allegations Pell sexually assaulted two boys at a Ballarat swimming pool in the seventies, collapsed for lack of admissible evidence.
With the trial details public, Weigel, Australian Jesuit lawyer Frank Brennan, and a number of critics have pointed out the holes in the prosecution’s case, which rested solely on the testimony of one witness, now 35. The other alleged victim died in 2014 of a heroin overdose, but not before telling his mother he had never been sexually abused.
They argue, as did Pell’s lawyer Robert Richter during the trial, that the complainant’s story is not credible for a number of reasons, including the sacristy would not have been empty after High Mass, nor would Pell have been alone at that time, nor would he have been able to manoeuver his heavy robes to sexually assault the boys.
Meanwhile, Richter’s arguments at Pell’s pre-sentencing hearing two weeks ago to persuade Kidd to give Pell a lenient sentence were blasted in the Catholic Herald at the time as “disastrous.”
Richter maintained he had to make arguments in the context of Pell’s guilty conviction, and so argued Pell must have had a moment of irrationality, and that the offense he was convicted of, but steadfastly denies committing, was “plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating.”
“Whatever his reasons, his description of a horrific attack on a minor (which Richter was not conceding actually happened) will do nothing to persuade the Australian public of Pell’s innocence,” noted the Catholic Herald.
“The situation is therefore a nightmare for the Catholic Church.”
Edward Pentin, Vatican correspondent for the Catholic Register, told Australian newspaper The Age that “most” in the Vatican believe Pell is “innocent, certainly those who worked with him.”
Pentin acknowledged speculation in the Eternal City that Pell was the victim of a conspiracy to oust him.
At the time he was charged, Pell, in the words of the Guardian, had been “handpicked to oversee the Vatican’s complex finances and root out corruption.”
“Pell was extremely unpopular in parts of the Vatican, particularly the old guard keen on keeping the old system running because they were doing so well out of it,” Pentin told The Age.
“There is this constant suspicion that the timing (of the charges) was not coincidental and there were some backroom dealings to get him out,” he said.