Vatican Treasurer, Cardinal Pell Bags Six Years Imprisonment For Sexually Abusing 2 Choir Boys.
Seventy Seven years old Catholic ‘high’ priest and close ally of Pope Francis, Cardinal George Pell has been sentenced to 6 years jail term after he was found guilty of sex offences against two teenage boys.
The Melbourn priest who the is most senior Catholic figure ever to be sentenced for sexual abuse 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.
That Pell will remain in jail for at least three years and eight months before he could be considered for a parole means that the former adviser to Pope Francis may die in jail.
In a worldwide live broadcast from Melbourne County Court, presiding Chief Judge Kidd pronounced Pell’s crimes as ‘breathtakingly arrogant’ and said the abuse has caused ‘long-term and serious harm.’
The judge however opined that 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.
Judge Kidd remarked that disgraced cardinal didn’t show remorse and contriteness which could have made the sentence lighter, but rather, denying the abuse and have hinted of appealing the judgment.
Pell, was until late February the number three officer in the Vatican, being the treasurer and once described as 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.
One of his two victims died few years back of drug addiction. But surviving victim, who testified and was cross-examined at the trial, in an apparent disapproval of the ‘mild and lenient’ sentence 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?’
His appearance in court Wednesday was the first time he has been seen publicly without the collar, as Pell wore an open neck black shirt with no collar for the more than seventy minutes sentencing.
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.’
In summarising his decision to sentence Pell to six years in jail, he said: ‘On the one hand I must punish and denounce you for this appalling offending. Yet on the other hand, I am conscious of the heavy reality that I am about to sentence you, a man of advanced years, who has led an otherwise blameless life, to a significant period of imprisonment, which will account for a good portion of the balance of your life.’
‘I am conscious that the term of imprisonment, which I am about to impose upon you, carries with it a real possibility that you may not live to be released from prison.
‘Facing jail at your age in these circumstances must be an awful state of affairs for you.’
Ahead of the sentencing, campaigner against child sexual abuse Leonie Sheedy said outside court that she hoped for a long sentence.
‘I hope that justice prevails and that Mr George Pell is treated like every other pedophile and sex offender in this state and he is incarcerated for a sentence that is appropriate to the crime that he committed,’ Ms Sheedy told 3AW radio.
Melbourne County Court was packed with abuse survivors including Pell’s surviving victim, now in his 30s.
He was raped by Pell in the priest’s sacristy after a Sunday mass in December 1996, forced to watch as Pell molested his 13-year-old friend, and then molested again by Pell a month later.
Cathy Kezelman from trauma recovery group Blue Knot Foundation said the sentence represented the personal struggle for justice of many other abuse survivors and the outcome is likely to be emotional and polarizing.
Pell was convicted in December of one charge of sexually penetrating a child and four of committing indecent acts with a child. Each offence carries a 10-year maximum prison sentence.
Pell maintains his innocence and intends to challenge the conviction in the Court of Appeal, which will be heard on June 5 and 6.
He has already served two weeks behind bars.
The disgraced Cardinal was the Vatican’s financial chief when he was accused of sexually abusing the boys back while he was archbishop of Melbourne.
The victims, both students at St Kevin’s College in Toorak, an inner suburb of Melbourne, were reportedly in the choir at St Patrick’s Cathedral and were abused by Pell inside the church.
The abuse took place after Pell introduced a compensation scheme for clerical sexual abuse victims known in Australia as the ‘Melbourne Response’, which he established in 1996.
Pell’s barrister had argued it would have been impossible for him to abuse the children while wearing the large robes he was dressed in when he committed the vile abuse.
But the jury of eight men and four women unanimously agreed, after a four-week trial, to convict Pell.
They reached their decision after hearing lengthy testimony from a victim, who described how Pell had exposed himself to them, fondled them and masturbated and forced one boy to perform a sex act on him.
In his closing argument to the jury, prosecutor Mark Gibson called the accuser’s evidence ‘powerful and persuasive’.
‘He was not a person indulging in fantasy or imagining things to the point where he now believed his own imaginative mind, but was simply telling it as it was and is,’ Mr Gibson told the court.
Pell was removed from Pope Francis’s inner circle of nine clergymen, the Council of Cardinals, following last year’s verdict.
But he remained as the Vatican’s treasurer, having been granted a leave of absence by Pope Francis.
The cardinal was named the Vatican’s Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in 2014, making him the third highest-ranking cleric in Rome.
Before being called to the Vatican, Pell served as Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 to 2014 and was Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001.
He was ordained in 1966 and made a cardinal in 2003.
Victorian police charged Pell with the sexual assault offences in June last year when he was in Rome.
Pell, who was represented by attorney Robert Richter, QC, stated at a press conference at the time he would return to Australia to answer the charges and he was ‘looking forward, finally, to having my day in court’.
‘I’m innocent of those charges,’ he said at the time. ‘They are false.’
Pell is the highest ranked Catholic to be embroiled in Catholic Church sex abuse scandal.
Allegations of abuse by priests date back to the 1950s but were given media attention in the 1980s in the US and Canada.
In the 1990s allegations were heard in Argentina, Australia and Europe.
In 1995, the Archbishop of Vienna stood down after allegations which had rocked the church. Stories of abuse began to emerge in Ireland in the same decade.
By the early 2000s the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal was a global issue.
Pope Francis, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, ended a conference on sexual abuse in February by calling for an ‘all-out battle’ against a crime that should be ‘erased from the face of the earth’.