George Pell jailed for six years over sexual abuse
DISGRACED cardinal George Pell will spend at least three years and eight months behind bars for the sexual assault of two young choirboys.
The sentence carries a maximum term of six years and cements the stunning fall from grace by the Catholic world leader.
Pell was also placed on the sex offenders register for life. His DNA will also be taken and stored on file.
The sentence was handed down by County Court chief judge Peter Kidd this morning following a hearing lasting more than one hour.
A lengthy list of the 77-year-old's health issues was read out, and he said Pell's age and health were key sentencing considerations, finding it a real possibility the elderly cleric dies while serving his sentence.
He said a shorter non-parole period had been set because of Pell's age.
Cardinal George Pell has been sentenced to six years in prison, with a non-parole period of three years and eight months. He stood emotionless in the dock and is now signing the sex offender register paperwork. @newscomauHQ— Rohan Smith (@Ro_Smith) March 13, 2019
I am conscious that the term of imprisonment, which I am about to impose upon you, carries with it a real - as distinct from theoretical - possibility that you may not live to be released from prison," Judge Kidd said.
In an unusual move for a Victorian court, the sentence was broadcast live.
Pell, in his first public appearance since being remanded in custody almost two weeks ago, made no reaction as the sentence was delivered.
The courtroom was also unusually silent as the sentence was announced.
Pell appeared in court flanked by five prison guards - an unusually high number for an accused being sentenced in the County Court, but it is understood there were concerns for his safety in court.
He appeared in a black shirt and pants and beige blazer, but was not wearing his clerical collar.
Never seen defence lawyers get a police escort leaving court. Pell lawyer Robert Rochter just got one. pic.twitter.com/VVYYmZagG9— Shannon Deery (@s_deery) March 13, 2019
Pell has vehemently denied any wrongdoing, continues to maintain his innocence, and has already launched an appeal against his five convictions.
Those steadfast denials, which Judge Kidd said showed a lack of remorse, were a significant factor in Pell's sentence.
Judge Kidd described Pell's abuse of two choirboys at St Patrick's Cathedral months after being appointed Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 as "breathtakingly arrogant".
He said as Archbishop, Pell was a pillar of the community at St Patrick's Cathedral.
"Authority mattered within the cathedral and was very much respected. The evidence shows you were profoundly revered," he said. "In part the choirboys were performing to please you, as Archbishop.
"The choirboys were the least powerful and most subordinate within the cathedral. The power imbalance … was stark."
Pell's "sexually graphic" acts were read out, and they were described as degrading, confronting, nasty and humiliating - a "brazen and forcible sexual attack on the two victims."
An attack on one of the boys was described as involving "a degree of physical aggression and venom".
"The offending … was on any view, breathtakingly arrogant," Judge Kidd said. "Your sexual abuse involved multiple different activities and actions.
"You continued to offend with callous indifference to the victims' distress. You were confident your victims would not complain."
Chief judge Kidd said character references tendered on Pell's behalf spoke of a man who dedicated his life to vulnerable people.
"You are someone who has been … of otherwise good character."
Under Victorian law, Judge Kidd had to take into account just punishment, deterrence, rehabilitation, denunciation and protection of the community in sentencing.
Judge Kidd also rejected the defence argument that Pell's mental functioning was impaired. Instead, he said Pell was an intelligent and lucid man during the time of offending.
However, Judge Kidd found there was no need to consider specific deterrence or protection of the community, finding Pell posed no risk of further offending.
Pell was not punished for contesting the charges, but would have received a considerable sentencing discount had he pleaded guilty.
"You are to be punished only for the particular wrongdoing you have been convicted of," chief judge Kidd told Pell.
"You are not to be made a scapegoat for any failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church.
"I am not sitting in judgment … of the Catholic Church. It is George Pell who falls to be sentenced. You are entitled to the balanced and steady hand of justice."
Chief judge Kidd condemned what he described as a witch hunt against Pell after his convictions were revealed two weeks ago.
He said he was obliged to sentence Pell without fear or favour.
WHAT NEXT FOR PELL
Pell's legal fight is not over, with his high profile lawyers already lodging an appeal with papers showing it will be fought on three grounds.
The main fight centres around overturning the Cardinal's guilty verdict, with the document arguing the verdicts were "unreasonable" based on the evidence.
The appeal papers filed also allege County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd "erred by preventing the defence from using a moving visual representation" during its closing address.
Pell will seek leave to appeal his convictions at a hearing in the Court of Appeal on June 5.
If leave is granted, the appeal will be heard immediately.
Pell could apply for appeal bail pending the appeal, meaning he could be released back into the community.
If bailed, he would be immediately remanded again if his appeal failed.
Bret Walker, SC, will head up the appeal, with Mr Richter stepping aside to have fresh eyes on the case. Richter's junior Ruth Shann and solicitor Paul Galbally who will remain on the cardinal's case.
THE GUILTY VERDICT
Pell was convicted of abusing two choirboys months after being appointed Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.
In December last year, a jury found Pell, 77, guilty of one count of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four counts of an indecent act with a child under 16 - but a gag order prevented the verdicts being made public.
He was in the process of rolling out his controversial Melbourne Response at the time, a scheme set up to compensate victims of clerical abuse.
Pell was convicted following a retrial after a first jury were unable to reach a verdict in the case.
By the jury in this second trial accepted that Cardinal Pell abused the two young choirboys after a Sunday Solemn mass inside St Patrick's Cathedral following his first mass as Archbishop there in 1996.
Just one of the victims gave evidence at trial. The other died several years ago and had denied being abused by any priest.
The living witness, now aged in his 30s, said he and his friend were young sopranos, on scholarship at prestigious St Kevin's college under an obligation to sing in the cathedral choir.
He said after a Sunday mass he and the other victim ran away during a church procession and made their way to the priests' sacristy inside the cathedral.
Once there they drank altar wine before being caught by Cardinal Pell who proceeded to indecently assault them.
Pell was found guilty of one count of sexual penetration of a child and four indecent act charges.
He has vehemently denied any wrong doing since he was first charged in June last year.
In a record of interview played to the court, he forcefully denied allegations made against him and said he would be able to prove the offences alleged were impossible.
One of his key defences was that as Archbishop, he was never left alone inside the cathedral.
The suppression order was put in place to protect an expected trial over allegations Pell indecently assaulted boys at a Ballarat swimming pool in the 1970s.
But that case was dropped after prosecutors were prohibited using evidence they considered crucial to the case.
Pell's prominent barrister Robert Richter, QC, was forced to apologise after the sentencing hearing last month after he sparked outrage when he described his client's case as "no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case".
Former prime minister John Howard's was among 10 references given to the court telling of Pell's humour, generosity and "exemplary character".
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