March 13, 2019

Australian Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to six years in prison on Wednesday for molesting two choir boys in Melbourne in 1996.

Pell, who served as the Vatican treasurer and was once part of Pope Francis’ inner circle, is the highest-ranking member of the Roman Catholic Church to be convicted of child sexual assault.

He was convicted of five counts at a hearing in December, but the media were prohibited from reporting about the details of the case due to a broad gag order meant to protect the integrity of the trial. He faced a total of 10 years in prison for each of those charges.

Pell, 77, will be eligible for parole in three years and six months and, if released, will be required to register as a sex offender for life. Judge Peter Kidd cited the cardinal’s advanced age and various health issues in considering his sentence.

“Each year you spend in custody will represent a substantial portion of your remaining life expectancy,” Kidd said Wednesday.

The sentenced stems from two incidents in the 1990s when Pell was the newly appointed Archbishop of Melbourne. He was accused of sexually assaulting two 13-year-old altar boys shortly after Sunday Mass, including an instance when Pell forced one of the boys to perform oral sex on him. During a separate incident, Pell was accused of grabbing a boy’s genitals.

A unanimous jury found him guilty of five counts of sexual abuse. Pell has maintained his innocence throughout the trial, and his lawyers have said they would appeal the conviction.

During the sentencing, Kidd said that, in his view, Pell’s “conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance” and called the actions “grave” and brazen.

“The argument of your counsel that this offending was committed by you, George Pell the man, and not by you, George Pell the archbishop, must be roundly rejected,” Kidd noted. “I do so without hesitation.”

One of the men who was abused by Pell released a statement through his lawyer after the verdict was handed down, saying the judge was “meticulous” in his ruling. But, he noted, it was “hard … for the time being, to take comfort in this outcome.”

“I appreciate that the Court has acknowledged what was inflicted upon me as a child,” the unnamed victim’s said through his attorney, Vivian Waller. “However, there is no rest for me. Everything is overshadowed by the forthcoming appeal.”

He added: “Being a witness in a criminal case has not been easy. I’m doing my best to hold myself and my family together.”