Cardinal Pell sentenced over sexual abuse

Publish Date
Wednesday, 13 March 2019, 12:51p.m.
Cardinal George Pell is due to be sentenced for sexually abusing two boys. Photo / AP
Cardinal George Pell is due to be sentenced for sexually abusing two boys. Photo / AP

The world is watching today as George Pell is sentenced for sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys at St Patrick's Cathedral in 1996.

It's expected he will receive a sentence of several years.

A jury convicted him in December of orally raping a 13-year-old choirboy and molesting another at St Patrick's Cathedral in East Melbourne in 1996.

Anticipating global interest in the sentence, the court allowed cameras inside to live broadcast Judge Kidd's remarks.

County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd is sentencing Pell in a hearing which began at midday.

Pell is sitting at the dock in the back, flanked by five uniformed officers plus additional courthouse security.

He is not wearing the "Roman collar", a white band that goes around the neck of a priest.

The judge has begun his remarks by acknowleding that Pell was "one of the most senior figures within the Catholic Church globally" and a "publicly vilified figure" among some sections of the community.

"I am also conscious that I am sentencing at a particular time where in recent years there has been the exposure of child sexual abuse within institutional settings, including within the Catholic Church."

However, he said he was required to sentence him today in "accordance with the rule of law".

"As I directed the jury who convicted you in this trail, you are not to be made a scapegoat for any failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church.

"Most importantly, while I must punish you for your offending, like anyone who falls to be sentenced by our courts, you are entitled to the balanced and steady hand of justice."

Chief Judge Kidd said Pell's attack was graphic and caused obvious distress to the victims.

Part of the evidence submitted was that Pell told one of the boys to be quiet as he was crying.

"Both victims were visibly and audibly distressed during this offending," the judge said.

"The obvious distress and objections of your victims is relevant to my assessment of the impact of your offending."

The judge said there was a "nasty element" to one of the acts that involved Pell taking one of the boy's head and placing the penis in close proximity to his head.

"The conduct here must have been particularly confronting and debasing."

He said additional force was used to push his penis into the other boy's mouth.

"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," he said.

"The offending which the jury has found you have engaged in was, on any view, breathtakingly arrogant."

The judge says: "In any event, Cardinal Pell, 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 noted one of the victims said the choirboys were expected to show reverence in Pell's presence.

"The evidence shows that you were profoundly revered, Cardinal Pell, which imbued you with and legitimised your authority," he said.

"In part, the choirboys were performing to please you as Archbishop."

He said the breach of trust was "grave".

The judge has noted that Pell's lawyer described the offending as towards the lower end of the spectrum of seriousness but said he rejected this.

"In my view, it does not even approach the low-end of offending."

Even though there was no grooming, the judge said he thought Pell had made a "reasoned and deliberate decision" to engage in the first episode of offending.

"You had time to reflect on your behaviour as you offended, yet you failed to desist," Judge Kidd said.

The judge said the breach of trust and abuse of power made the offending significantly more serious.

"In my view, your conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance," he said.

Lengthy sentence expected

Senior crown prosecutor Mark Gibson SC foreshadowed in a pre-sentence hearing in February that Pell would likely spend "significant time" in prison.

Given his high profile, it could include long periods in lockdown.

Pell was found guilty of five charges: one charge of sexual penetration of a child and four of indecent acts with a child, each carry a 10-year maximum jail sentence.

Herald Sun reporter Shannon Deery explained some of the factors the judge will take into consideration, including that Pell was convicted of five sexual assault charges against minors — the most serious effectively a rape charge.

"Given the ferocity with which he (Pell) has fought the charges, the judge could consider there is no evidence of remorse. Indeed it would be hard to draw any other conclusion. This could see Pell cop a bigger whack than he otherwise would have," Deery tweeted.

Nearly 100 people lined up outside the doors of the courtroom this morning, including media from around the world and protesters.

Campaigner against child sexual abuse, Leonie Sheedy, arrived at the court today hoping for justice.

"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," Sheedy told 3AW radio.

Cathy Kezelman from the trauma recovery-focused Blue Knot Foundation says the sentence represents the personal struggle for justice of many other abuse survivors and the outcome is likely to be emotional and polarising.

For some, any sentence won't be enough while others, still reeling from the verdict, will likely be outraged, she says.

"For too long, hermetically sealed systems of power, such as within the Catholic Church, have called the shots, protecting the church, its hierarchy and themselves," Dr Kezelman said.

"Hopefully this sentence can herald fundamental change to the church and other institutions, starting with accountable, responsible and transparent leadership, hierarchy and culture."

Last night as Pell prepared to learn his fate, a projection of the words "crime scene" lit up the gates to St Patrick's Cathedral where the sexual abuse took place.

How to get help

If you're in danger now:

• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay.

Where to go for help or more information:

• NZ Police
• The Harbour, for those affected by harmful sexual behaviour
• Help Auckland 24/7 helpline 09 623 1700
• Rape Prevention Education
• Wellington Help 24/7 crisisline 04 801 6655, push 0
• Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 REFUGE or 0800 733 843
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and Middle Eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent.

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