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13 Mar, 2019 01:15

Vatican's former 3rd top man sentenced to 6 years over child sex abuse in groundbreaking trial

Vatican's former 3rd top man sentenced to 6 years over child sex abuse in groundbreaking trial

A Melbourne court has sentenced Cardinal George Pell, a former close ally of Pope Francis, to six years behind bars with a possibility of parole. Pell was found guilty of five counts of historic child sex crimes.

As he delivered the hugely anticipated verdict, Chief Judge Peter Kidd said that he decided to "impose a shorter non-parole period" than he would have done otherwise while taking into account Pell's age of 77.

He also mandated that Pell register as a sex offender, which the latter did in a courtroom bustling with reporters awaiting the sentencing of the most senior prelate of the Catholic Church ever to be found guilty of child sex crimes. Pell will have to serve at least three years and eight months in jail before he is eligible for parole.

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Kidd said that Pell was well aware of what he was doing when he traumatized two choir boys, describing his behavior as a "reasoned albeit perverted one."

"In my view, your conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance," Kidd said, as quoted by the Guardian. He also dismissed an argument by the cardinal's defense team that he had not breached the boys' trust. Lawyers for Pell had argued that there was no relationship to be breached between them in the first place.

"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. I do so without hesitation," Kidd said, noting that Pell was a figure of authority.

Kidd stressed that by punishing Pell, he does not seek to punish the whole Catholic Church, which has been rattled by widespread allegations of sexual abuse of minors.

"You are not to be made a scapegoat... for the Catholic Church," he said.

Before Pell was charged with child sex abuse by Australian police in June 2017, he was a close aide of Pope Francis and was, at least formally, the third most powerful man in the Vatican until last month despite his worldwide notoriety. The Holy See announced on February 26 that Pell was no longer the head of the Secretariat of Economy, which oversees all economic activities of the theocratic state. Pell's term was due to expire on February 24, and no prior announcement of either his resignation or removal had been made.

Days later, the Vatican launched an internal investigation into Pell, who remains a cardinal, which can lead to him being defrocked.

Pell's fall from grace began in 2015, when a former choir boy at Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral reached out to police alleging sexual abuse by the then archbishop of Melbourne in late 1996 and 1997.

The victim, now in his 30s, claimed that Pell exploited his and the other boys' fears of losing a prestigious scholarship that depended on them being in the choir to repeatedly molest them. The man, identified by sentencing judge Peter Kidd only as J, told the court that Pell exposed himself to the boys, forced J to perform oral sex, and on a separate occasion, grabbed his genitals following a Sunday Mass.

While sentencing, Kidd said that the boys, one of whom committed suicide long before the trial, experienced immense emotional distress from Pell's actions had a "significant and long-lasting impact" on J's life.

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