Cardinal George Pell, convicted in December of abusing two 13 year-old choirboys in 1996, has been sentenced to six years in prison. He is the most senior Vatican official to be convicted of sexual abuse to date.
In his sentencing remarks Justice Peter Kidd, who presided over the case, called Pell’s abuse of the two boys “breathtakingly arrogant.” He remarked that Pell, an archbishop at the time, had exploited a position of enormous power: “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 rejected arguments made by Pell’s defence team that the cardinal, if he had committed the offences, must have acted in a moment of irrationality. Seeing forethought in Pell’s choice of such subordinate and therefore vulnerable victims, he told Pell “you were confident your victims would not complain,” and that “your decision to offend was a reasoned, albeit perverted, one.”
Kidd remarked that “Both victims were visibly and audibly distressed during this offending,” and that Pell had acted with “callous indifference to the victims’ distress.”
To other victims of clerical or institutional sexual abuse, he said “This sentence is not and cannot be a vindication of your trauma.”
Pell signed the sex offenders register, but gave no further response to the sentencing. He will be a registered sex offender for life, and will be required to allow police to take forensic samples from him.
However, the judge acknowledged it is unlikely Pell will live long enough to re-offend, given his age and poor health. He told Pell, who is beginning his sentence at 77 years old, “Facing jail at your age in these circumstances must be an awful state of affairs for you.”
Before his arrest, Pell was the Catholic Church’s most senior figure in Australia and held a position of high esteem as the Vatican’s treasurer. The Church suspended him as cardinal in June 2017 and removed him from office in December 2018.
He has lodged an appeal, which will be heard in June.
One of Pell’s two victims took his own life in 2014. The surviving victim has released a statement on the experience of testifying against his abuser, telling media that “Being a witness in a criminal case has not been easy. I’m doing my best to hold myself and my family together.”
Statement from the man who was abused by Pell, read outside court by his lawyer: pic.twitter.com/6rCEVrboUk
— Lane Sainty (@lanesainty) March 13, 2019
Throughout his time as a church official, Pell was a vocal opponent of marriage equality for LGBT+ couples. As an archbishop in 2012, in submissions to the Australian Senate, he wrote that marriage between one man and one woman was sacrosanct.
In the lead-up to a public vote for marriage equality in Australia last year, he was one of the leading figures arguing against the proposed legislation. He also spoke out against Ireland’s historic marriage equality vote and the Supreme Court ruling that legalised same-sex marriage across the USA.
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