Law & the Courts

Cardinal George Pell Sentenced to Six Years for Abusing Choir Boys

Cardinal George Pell arrives at the County Court in Melbourne, Australia, February 26, 2019. (AAP Image/Erik Anderson/via Reuters)

Cardinal George Pell, the highest ranking Vatican official ever criminally prosecuted for sexual abuse, was sentenced Wednesday to six years in prison for molesting two choir boys in Australia in the late 1990’s.

Pell, who formerly served as a senior adviser to Pope Francis, was found guilty in December on one count of sexual penetration of a child and four counts of committing an indecent act with a child following a five-week trial, which was shielded from public view by a government mandated gag-order. His sentencing Tuesday, however, was broadcast live to the nation from Victoria’s County Court in Melbourne.

The presiding judge, Peter Kidd, dismissed the defense’s argument that the cardinal was not in his right mind when he committed the assault, citing the sermon he delivered immediately before he molested two choir boys he found drinking alter wine in the sacristy. While handing down the sentence, Kidd also made clear that the ruling did not reflect any animus against the Catholic Church for its failure to respond to systemic sexual abuse within its ranks.

“The Catholic Church is not on trial and I’m not imposing a sentence on the Catholic Church. I’m imposing a sentence on Cardinal Pell for what he did,” Kidd said.

The names of the victims have not been revealed, but one of them died by heroin overdose several years ago, while the other reported his abuse in 2015.

The Vatican is now conducting an internal investigation into Pell’s conduct that may result in his defrocking, a permanent punishment that is reserved for the gravest abuses and can only be handed down by the pope.

Some support for Pell remains within Australia. His defense relied on character references provided by ten high-profile friends, including former Prime Minister John Howard who wrote that Pell, his friend of 30-years, was and remains, a man of “high intelligence and exemplary character.”

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