Cardinal Pell sentenced

Cardinal George Pell
In this 2017 file photo, Australian Cardinal George Pell is seen at the Vatican press office. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

Cardinal George Pell has been sentenced to six years in prison with a three year and eight month non-parole period for historical sexual abuse charges in the Melbourne County Court today.

Chief Judge Peter Kidd opened his sentencing remarks, which were streamed live from the court, with an acknowledgement of the “unique context” surrounding Cardinal Pell’s case, condemning a lynch mob mentality against him and asking abuse victims to not consider his sentence as a vindication of their trauma.

“Cardinal Pell has not been convicted of any wrongs committed against you,” he said.

“I recognise that you seek justice, but it can only be justice if it is done in accordance with the rule of law. For me to punish Cardinal Pell for the wrongs committed against you would be contrary to the rule of law and it would not be justice at all.”

Related article: Cardinal’s appeal hearing set for June

Justice Kidd said that he was not sitting in judgement of the Catholic religion or the Catholic Church.

“Over the last period we have witnessed in the community examples of a witch hunt or lynch mob mentality in relation to you George Pell. I utterly condemn such behaviour,” he said.

“That has nothing to do with justice in a civilised society. The courts stand as a bulwark against such irresponsible behaviour.”

The Cardinal is also “not to be made a scapegoat of any failings or perceived failings of the Church”, and must not be sentenced for any failure to prevent or report child sexual abuse by other clergy within the Catholic Church, he said.

However, the Cardinal’s convictions related to grave offences committed in circumstances that were “breathtakingly arrogant”, in the absence of any mental impairment and which included a clear breach of trust.

Justice Kidd said the Cardinal’s sentence took into account his advanced age and failing health, otherwise blameless life and good character, and the ‘extra-curial’ punishment of the intense public scrutiny he has already suffered.

He said he believed Cardinal Pell has reformed and is not a risk to the community, although his conviction means that he will be registered as a sex offender for life.

He also said that the Cardinal’s public profile “gives rise to security and safety concerns” in prison.

He said, however, that the factors in Cardinal Pell’s favour must be balanced against the need for the sentence to reflect general deterrence, denunciation and just punishment which are important in cases against children.

The Cardinal maintains his innocence and his appeal against his conviction will be considered over two days from 5-6 June.