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Cardinal Pell sentenced to six years imprisonment for sexual abuse

The prefect emeritus of the Secretariat for the Economy has maintained his innocence, and will apply to appeal his conviction in June, focusing on three points.

Cardinal George Pell gestures during an interview at the Vatican in file photo. (CNS photo/Robert Duncan)

Melbourne, Australia, Mar 12, 2019 / 06:18 pm (CNA).- Cardinal George Pell was sentenced Wednesday to six years imprisonment, after being convicted in December of sexual abuse of two choirboys in 1996. He will be eligible for parole after serving three years and eight months of his sentence.

Chief Judge Peter Kidd handed down the sentence March 13 from the Victoria County Court. Kidd’s remarks of more than 70 minutes were broadcast live.

The prefect emeritus of the Secretariat for the Economy has maintained his innocence, and will apply to appeal his conviction in June.

Pell, 77, had been incarcerated at the Melbourne Assessment Prison while he awaited the results of the sentencing hearing.

The cardinal was convicted on five counts of sex abuse based on charges he sexually assaulted two choirboys while serving as Archbishop of Melbourne.

It was the cardinal’s second trial, as a jury in an earlier trial had failed to reach a unanimous verdict. The first jury were deadlocked 10-2 in Pell’s favor.

His appeal will be made on three points: the jury’s reliance on the evidence of a single victim, an irregularity that kept Pell from entering his not guilty plea in front of the jury, and the defense not being allowed to show a visual representation supporting his claim of innocence.

The appeal document says that “the verdicts are unreasonable and cannot be supported, having regard to the evidence, because on the whole of the evidence, including unchallenged exculpatory evidence from more than 20 Crown witnesses, it was not open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the word of the complainant alone.”

Another Australian prelate, Archbishop Philip Wilson, was convicted in May of failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse disclosed to him in the 1970s. But in December a district judge overturned that conviction, saying there was reasonable doubt a crime had been committed. Before his conviction was overturned, Wilson served about five months of a 12-month home detention sentence.

Pell’s conviction has met with varied reactions. While many figures in Australian media have lauded Pell’s conviction, some Australians have called it into question, prompting considerable debate across the country.

Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, suggested that the justice process was tainted by media and police forces that had worked “to blacken the name” of Pell “before he went to trial.”

“This is not a story about whether a jury got it right or wrong, or about whether justice is seen to prevail,” Craven said in a Feb. 27 opinion piece in The Australian. “It’s a story about whether a jury was ever given a fair chance to make a decision, and whether our justice system can be heard above a media mob.”

Pell was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Ballarat in 1966. He was consecrated a bishop in 1987, and appointed auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, becoming ordinary of the see in 1996. Pell was then Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 to 2014, when he was made prefect of the newly-created Secretariat for the Economy. He served on Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals from 2013 to 2018. Pell ceased to be prefect of the economy secretariat Feb. 24.

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  1. I, like many, have been very skeptical about the prosecution’s claims in this trial and the fairness of the jury in convicting the Cardinal. However, something came out in the sentencing today which disturbs me. Unlike the trial, which was held in secret, today’s sentencing was public. According to one account (echoed by many other news sources), “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.” The judge said, “The defence submitted in both cases you were not acting rationally. I reject this. There is no evidence that supports that your mental state was impaired or diminished at the time.”

    Now, the judge’s words seem to imply that, during the trial, the defense admitted the truth of some of the allegations but then tried to mount was essentially an insanity defense. This is one of the few windows we have into what was said at that trial, and it has me feeling quite bewildered and disturbed. If the defense did make such arguments, then it would imply that, perhaps, the Cardinal is guilty. I hope that this is not the case, but facts are facts. I do wish that we had more access to what was said at the trial, so that we could adopt a more informed stance.

    • Peter,the actual words in the Sentencing, you need to go further afield. Media will selectively interpret with a bias. The Judge said “In particular, your counsel emphasised that no person thinking rationally would engage in the conduct of the first episode, with the door open and with people nearby and where there were accessible private lockable rooms nearby. (SO THIS PARAGRAPH records that the Defense argued that it was unreasonable to think Pell would risk his position/everything in a public place at imminent risk of discovery. So this has been reworded by Media and your quote records how they wrote of the Judge’s remark)

      It was submitted that I should therefore proceed upon the basis that you did not reflect in a reasoned way upon your offending.(The JUDGE must accept the verdict of the jury)

      I reject this submission for a number of reasons.

      First, there is no medical or psychological evidence before me of any kind, which supports any inference that your mental functioning was impaired or diminished in any way at the time of either episode. I note your counsel did not seek to engage the principles of mental impairment under the case of Verdins.

      Second, there is no evidence before me from any witness at the trial that you were other than a fully functioning, competent, lucid and intelligent man, during the relevant period of time.

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