MELBOURNE, Australia—A worldwide audience watched as Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic and a former top adviser to Pope Francis was sentenced to a maximum of six years in prison for sexually abusing two choirboys in the 1990s.
County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd’s sentencing of Cardinal George Pell was broadcast live from Victoria’s County Court in Melbourne on March 13, just a few blocks away from the maximum security prison where the former archbishop was being held.
Kidd said he was aware that he was passing his sentence at “a time where, in recent years, there has been the exposure of child sexual abuse within institutional settings, including within the Catholic Church.”
Pell was found guilty by a jury of 12 in December 2018. The jury was the second to hear the case after the first had to be discharged when they failed to reach a unanimous decision.
“I am required to sentence you today in accordance with the rule of law … independently of any outside influences,” Kidd said. “I must, at law, give full effect to the jury’s verdict.”
The County Court’s largest courtroom was filled with abuse survivors, advocates, and a global television audience.
In sentencing Pell, Kidd said he had dismissed mental impairment as a factor in Pell’s decision to offend.
“What you did was so egregious that it is fanciful to suggest that you may not have fully appreciated this,” Kidd said.
The judge took into account the victims’ emotional well-being and the impact the abuse has had on their relationships, culminating in an “immediate” and “profound impact” on their lives.
Kidd also addressed the relationship of trust between Pell and the victims, and the context of power imbalance.
“I think you did give thought or reflection to this offending and the only reasonable inference from the brazen circumstances of your offending is that you had a degree of confidence that the victims would not complain either immediately by running out or at some later stage,” he said.
“You were a pillar of St. Patrick’s community by virtue of your role as archbishop.”
Kidd said that as a result of Pell maintaining his innocence, which is his right to do so, there was no evidence of any “remorse or contrition” to “reduce your sentence.”
Pell’s age and health were “significant” factors in Kidd’s sentencing. The judge also ruled that the 22-year delay in sentencing since the offense occurred had also given Pell the opportunity to demonstrate the “capacity to lead an otherwise blameless life.”
Kidd said it was his conclusion that Pell had “effectively reformed.”
He added that, although he was persuaded that Pell was “not a risk to the community,” factors like Pell’s advanced age were balanced in his sentencing by the need to “properly reflect the purposes of general deterrence, denunciation, and just punishment.”
The court must demonstrate the “grave consequences” of violating the law and deter would-be offenders, Kidd said. “The offenses you, Cardinal Pell, have committed, were each intentional offenses.”
Pell is considered to be a “serious sexual offender” in relation to two of the charges. The prosecution did not seek a “disproportionate sentence,” Kidd said.
The Melbourne jury found Pell, 77, guilty of five charges on Dec. 11, 2018—one of orally raping a child and four of committing indecent acts with children.
The cardinal was charged with the 1996 raping of a choirboy and molesting another in the priests’ sacristy of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne, where Pell was archbishop at the time. His victims were two 13-year-old boys on scholarship to the prestigious St. Kevin’s College.
The jury also found Pell guilty of assaulting one of the boys a second time in early 1997 when the archbishop pushed the boy against a corridor wall after a Sunday Mass and groped him briefly.
One of the two victims died of a heroin overdose in 2014, while the other, now in his 30s, brought the allegations to police after years of struggling to understand what he had experienced as a child.
Suppression Order Lifted
The verdict was first made public on Feb. 26 after a court suppression order on the trial that prevented media reporting had been lifted. The suppression order had been issued by Kidd on June 25, 2018, as a second jury considered separate abuse allegations against Pell that have since been dropped by the prosecution, who said there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest that Pell’s touching of a young boy was deliberate.
Kidd said at the time that the suppression order was to prevent a “real and substantial risk of prejudice to the proper administration of justice.”
Shortly after the suppression order was lifted, the victim’s lawyer released a statement on behalf of the victim.
“Thank you for your interest in this case,” he wrote. “Like many survivors, I have experienced shame, loneliness, depression and struggle. Like many survivors it has taken me years to understand the impact on my life.”
“At some point we realise that we trusted someone we should have feared and we fear those genuine relationships that we should trust,” he added. “I would like to thank my family near and far for their support of me, and of each other. … I need space and time to cope with the ongoing criminal process. I understand this is a big news story but please don’t reveal my identity.”
Pell’s lawyers also released a statement on his behalf.
“Cardinal George Pell has always maintained his innocence and continues to do so. An appeal has been lodged against his conviction and he will await the outcome of the appeal process,” the statement said.
“Although originally the Cardinal faced allegations from a number of complainants, all charges except for those the subject of the appeal have now been either withdrawn, discharged or discontinued. He will not be commenting in the meantime.”
The hearings in the Court of Appeals are scheduled to be heard June 5 and 6.
According to Pell’s barrister Robert Richter QC, Pell will argue that the jury relied too heavily on one victim’s evidence and that it didn’t constitute proof beyond reasonable doubt that the claims are true. He has also put forward that Kidd erred in preventing the defense from displaying “moving” footage supporting Pell’s version of events.
One of Pell’s supporters, leader of the National Civic Council Peter Westmore, told The Epoch Times that “public opinion in Victoria has been totally prejudiced against a fair hearing because, in part, of the crimes committed by other people in the Catholic church. And they are crimes.”
The Melbourne court allowed the live broadcast of Kidd reading out his sentencing remarks in a commitment to the principles of “open justice.” It is rare for Australian courtrooms to allow live broadcasts.
Pell is the world’s most senior Catholic leader to be found guilty of such crimes.
“In sentencing you today, Cardinal Pell, I am not sitting in judgment of the Catholic religion or the Catholic Church,” Kidd said. “It is George Pell who falls to be sentenced.”
Kidd acknowledged the “extraordinary and widespread publicity and public comment” surrounding Pell’s case and observed “examples of a ‘witch-hunt’ or ‘lynch mob’ mentality in relation to Cardinal Pell.”
“I utterly condemn such behavior.
“You are to be punished only for the particular wrongdoing you have been convicted of … of sexually abusing two boys in the 1990s,” Kidd said.
If the sentence stands, Pell will be a registered sex offender for life. The sentence has a non-parole period of three years and eight months.
Catholic Community Responds
Previously, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, issued a public statement in response to Pell’s conviction on Feb. 26.
“We respect the Australian legal system,” he said. “Our hope, at all times, is that through this process, justice will be served … In the meantime, we pray for all those who have been abused and their loved ones.”
However, this may not be enough to placate other members of the community who are furious with the institution of the Catholic Church for not adopting a “zero tolerance” approach to pedophiliac priests and those who cover up such acts. Child sexual abuse scandals have rocked not only Australia but the United States, Chile, Germany, Ireland, and more.
“I think this is a tipping point for the Catholic Church,” Fiona Patten, who leads the Reason Party, told The Epoch Times. “I would be so disappointed if the Catholic Church did not remove the secrecy of the confession.
“I would be so disappointed if the Church did not accept mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse, which to date they have not.”
You can read Judge Kidd’s full sentencing here.
With reporting by Rita Li