George Pell: Cardinal jailed for child sexual abuse in Australia

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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 has lodged an appeal.

In sentencing Pell on Wednesday, a judge said the cleric had committed “a brazen and forcible 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.

  • Pell: Poisoned power at the top
  • Why his conviction was kept a secret
  • Inside a strictly controlled trial
  • The backlash to the verdict in Australia

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

One of Pell’s victims said it was hard “to take comfort in this outcome” with the cleric’s appeal looming.

What did the court hear previously?

Prosecutors said 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, the court heard. 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.

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verdict was kept secret from the public until February, when additional charges of sexual offences against Pell were withdrawn by prosecutors.

What did the judge say?

Judge Kidd said Pell’s crimes were particularly callous because of a “stark” power imbalance.

“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.

“You even told your victims to be quiet because they were crying.”

The judge said he had considered Pell’s age and health in determining the length of his jail term. Each of the five charges had carried a maximum 10-year sentence.

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

  • How will the Pope tackle abuse in the Catholic Church?
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He took more than an hour to deliver his remarks. Unusually for local courts, they were broadcast live – in what officials said was a commitment to “open justice”.

‘No flicker of emotion’

Hywel Griffith, BBC News Australia correspondent

Leaning on his walking stick and dressed without his clerical collar, George Pell arrived in the courtroom knowing he faced a significant prison sentence.

He nodded towards a few supporters, but they were significantly outnumbered by the many campaigners and abuse survivors who had come to witness his downfall.

When his sentence was handed down, many in the court turned to look at Pell, searching for any flicker of emotion.

But Pell remained impassive throughout, staring straight ahead, and then bowing towards the judge before being led away.

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.

  • Pell argues ‘irregularity’ in abuse verdict

What’s been the reaction?

Pell’s surviving victim – who cannot be named – welcomed the sentence but said it was difficult “to feel the gravity of this moment”.

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

The father of the deceased victim said he was disappointed in the length of the sentence, but was glad to see Pell jailed.

“I watched him walking out of that court and I thought to myself: ‘Well, I’m going to sleep in my bed tonight, where are you sleeping?'” he told reporters.

Last month, the Vatican described Pell’s conviction as “painful news” that had “shocked many”, and said he was prohibited from public ministry. He was removed from the Pope’s inner circle in December.

The Church noted, however, that the cleric had a right to “defend himself to the last degree”.

The cardinal has also retained the support of some high-profile figures in Australia.

What is the wider picture?

The sexual abuse of children was rarely discussed in public before the 1970s, and it was not until the 1980s that the first cases of molestation by priests came to light, in the US and Canada.

In the decades since, evidence of widespread abuse has emerged globally. In Australia, an inquiry heard that 7% of the nation’s Catholic priests had abused children.

  • Australia sexual abuse ‘a national tragedy’
  • US Cardinal defrocked over abuse allegations

Pope Francis has established a committee to tackle sexual abuses. At a landmark Church summit on paedophilia last month, he said clergy guilty of abuse were “tools of Satan”.

But critics say he could do more to combat paedophiles and those who conceal abuse.

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