Cardinal Pell sent to prison for abusing two in Australia

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) – The most senior Catholic convicted of child abuse was sentenced yesterday to six years in prison for molesting two choirboys in an Australian cathedral in a crime the judge said showed “staggering arrogance”.

Cardinal George Pell must serve a minimum of three years and eight months before he is eligible for parole, according to the judge’s order. The five convictions against Pell carried a maximum possible sentence of 10 years each.

“In my view, your conduct was permea-ted by staggering arrogance,” Victoria state County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd said in handing down the sentence.

Pope Francis’ former finance minister was convicted by a unanimous jury verdict in December of abusing a 13-year-old choirboy and indecently dealing with the boy and the boy’s 13-year-old friend in the late 1990s, months after Pell became archbishop of Melbourne. A court order had suppressed media reporting the news until last month.

The 77-year-old denies the allegations and will appeal his convictions in the Victoria Court of Appeal on June 5. It was not immediately clear if he will also appeal the sentence.

Cardinal George Pell. – AP

For the first time in Pell’s many court appearances since he returned to Australia from the Vatican to face abuse charges, Pell wore an open-necked shirt without a cleric’s collar. He was also not wearing a cardinal’s gold ring, which might reflect strict rules on jewellery in the state penal system.

In explaining his sentencing decision, the judge said Pell had led an “otherwise blameless life”. Kidd said he believed given Pell’s age and lack of any other criminal record, the cardinal posed no risk of re-offending.

The judge also took pains to note that he was sentencing Pell for the offences on which the cardinal had been convicted.

“As I directed the jury who convicted you in this trial, you are not to be made a scapegoat for any failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church,” Kidd said.

But the judge also said that Pell had abused his position of power and had shown no remorse for his crimes. Kidd described the assaults as egregious, degrading and humiliating to the victims.

Pell showed no emotion during the hour-long hearing and barely moved throughout. He stood silently with his hands behind his back as the judge read his sentence. Pell signed documents that registered him for life as a serious offender before he was led from the dock by four prison officers.

In a statement, one of Pell’s victims called the judge’s sentence “meticulous and considered”.

“It is hard for me to allow myself to feel the gravity of this moment, the moment when the sentence is handed down, the moment when justice is done,” the man said in a statement read outside court by one of his lawyers, Vivian Waller.