An Australian court on Wednesday sentenced Cardinal George Pell to six years in jail for sexually assaulting two choirboys in a Melbourne cathedral in the mid-1990s.
Victoria County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd handed down the sentence, which includes a non-parole period of three years and eight months.
The 77-year-old former Vatican treasurer and one-time close adviser to Pope Francis is the highest-ranking Catholic to be convicted of child sexual abuse.
Dressed in a grey suit and black shirt – but not wearing his clerical collar as he had in previous hearings – Pell stood to hear the sentence and did not appear to react as it was read out. He then signed paperwork registering him as a sex offender for the rest of his life.
Kidd noted that Pell showed “no evidence of remorse or contrition” during his trial that could have been a reason to reduce his sentence.
He also stressed, however, that his judgement applied to the actions of Pell alone.
“You are not to be made a scapegoat of the failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church,” the judge said. “You have not been charged with the conduct of such failings.”
Kidd described Pell’s crimes as “risky and brazen” and said his decision to offend, though opportunistic, was a “reasoned, albeit a perverted one.”
He also outlined the stark imbalance of power between him and his two 13-year-old victims and said there was “a clear breach of trust and abuse of power” during the offending.
Prosecutors did not make any comments after the sentencing.
“There is an appeal on foot, so I can’t say a thing,” Pell’s lawyer Robert Richter told dpa after the sentencing.
“I am not doing the appeal because someone with an independent mind is looking at it.”
One of the unnamed victims who was sexually assaulted by Pell, and whose testimony the jury heard, reacted to the sentence saying “it is hard for me, for the time being, to take comfort in this outcome.”
“Everything is overshadowed by the forthcoming appeal,” he said through a statement issued by his lawyer.
“I have played my part as best I can. I took the difficult step of reporting to police about a high-profile person and I stood up to give my evidence. I am waiting for the outcome of the appeal like everybody else,” he added.
The sexual assaults took place after Sunday mass in December 1996 and again in early 1997 at St Patrick’s Cathedral, just a few months after Pell was appointed archbishop of Melbourne.
In December, Pell was unanimously convicted by a jury consisting of eight men and four women on five charges – one count of sexual penetration of a child under 16, and four counts of committing an indecent act with or in presence of a child under 16. An earlier jury had been discharged in September after it could not reach a verdict.
The overflowing Melbourne courtroom on Wednesday was packed with some 120 people, including many journalists, lawyers, abuse survivors, activists, and church officials.
The sentencing hearing lasted for over an hour and in a rare move for an Australian court, was broadcast live on television.
Due to a suppression order issued by the judge, the media had been prohibited from reporting on the trial and the verdict until late February.
The gag order was lifted after prosecutors decided to drop a second trial on charges that Pell had sexually abused several boys in a public swimming pool in his hometown Ballarat in the 1970s.
Pell was until December a member of the Council of Cardinals, an advisory panel to Pope Francis. His role as the prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy in the Vatican ended in February.