Australia court jails cardinal for six years

George Pell attends a sentence hearing at a Melbourne court on 27 February 2019Image copyright
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George Pell is the most senior Catholic ever to be convicted of sexual abuse

Cardinal George Pell has been jailed for six years after being convicted of sexually abusing two boys in Australia.

The former Vatican treasurer is the most senior Catholic figure ever to be found guilty of sexual offences against children.

Pell abused the 13-year-old choir boys in a Melbourne cathedral in 1996, a jury ruled last year.

The cardinal, 77, maintains his innocence and is appealing against his convictions.

In sentencing Pell on Wednesday, a judge said the cleric had committed “a brazen and forceful sexual attack on the two victims”.

“Your conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance,” said Judge Peter Kidd.

In December, a jury unanimously convicted Pell of one charge of sexually penetrating a child under 16, and four counts of committing an indecent act on a child under 16.

His conviction has rocked the Catholic Church, where he had been one of the Pope’s closest advisers.

Abuse survivors were among those who travelled to Melbourne on Wednesday to witness Pell’s sentencing before a packed courtroom.

Pell will be eligible for parole after three years and eight months. His appeal will be heard in June.

What did the court hear previously?

Last year, a court heard that Pell had abused the boys following a mass in St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996, when he was archbishop of Melbourne.

After telling them they were in trouble for drinking communion wine, Pell forced each boy into indecent acts, prosecutors said. He abused one of the boys again in 1997.

The trial heard testimony from one of the victims. The other died of a drug overdose in 2014.

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Pell has been close adviser to Pope Francis in recent years

The verdict was kept secret from the public until February, when additional charges of sexual offences against Pell – which he denies – were withdrawn by prosecutors.

What did the judge say on Wednesday?

Judge Kidd said Pell’s abuse was particularly callous because the cleric had been in a position of power.

“You were the archbishop of St Patrick’s Cathedral no less, and you sexually abused two choir boys within that cathedral,” he told the County Court of Victoria.

The judge said there was a “real” possibility that Pell may not live to be released from prison, and that he had considered the cleric’s age and health in sentencing.

Judge Kidd added that Pell should not “be made a scapegoat” for wider failings within the Catholic Church.

In an unusual move for local courts, the lengthy sentencing was broadcast live – in what officials said was a commitment to “open justice”.

How will Pell appeal the verdict?

His lawyers argue that the jury’s verdict was “unreasonable” because it relied too heavily on the testimony of one person – the victim who is alive.

They have also asserted that Pell was wrongly prevented from entering his plea before a jury, and that a defence animation should have been allowed as evidence at the trial.

A court will begin considering the appeal on 5 June.

What’s been the reaction?

Pell’s surviving victim – who cannot be named – welcomed the sentence but said it was hard “to take comfort in this outcome”.

“There is no rest for me. Everything is overshadowed by the forthcoming appeal,” he said in a statement read by his lawyer.

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