Cardinal Pell jailed for 'brazen' choirboy abuse

Disgraced Australian cardinal George Pell has been jailed for a maximum six years for "brazen" abuse he committed with "venom" on two choirboys in Melbourne in the 1990s.

Pell showed no emotion when the sentence was handed down on Wednesday.

The 77-year-old must serve at least three years and eight months in prison before being eligible for release on parole.

Before walking back to the court's cells, flanked by security, Pell signed paperwork to be registered for life as a sex offender.

A jury convicted him in December last year of orally raping a 13-year-old choirboy and molesting another at St Patrick's Cathedral in 1996 and 1997, finding him guilty of five charges.

Cardinal George Pell must serve a  minimum of 3 years and 8 months before is eligible for parole....
Cardinal George Pell must serve a minimum of 3 years and 8 months before is eligible for parole. Photo: AP
County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd handed down his sentence in front of a full courtroom and global television audience.

The courtroom was packed with abuse survivors who have their own interest in the result, beyond that of Pell's surviving victim, now aged in his 30s.

He was orally raped by Pell in the priest's sacristy after a Sunday mass in December 1996, forced to watch as Pell molested his 13-year-old friend, and then molested again by Pell a month later.

"It was meticulous and it was considered," the victim said of the sentence in a statement read by his lawyer outside court.

"I appreciate that the court has acknowledged what was inflicted upon me as a child."

The second boy died in 2014.

"Our client is disappointed with the short sentencing and has expressed sadness over what he believes is inadequate for the crime," a law firm said on behalf of the dead man's father.

Judge Kidd explicitly set out the facts of the case.

"The acts were sexually graphic. Both victims were visibly and audibly distressed during this offending," he said.

"There is an added layer of degradation and humiliation that each of your victims must have felt in knowing that their abuse had been witnessed by the other."

Judge Kidd said the second episode was "brief and spontaneous" but could not be viewed as an "isolated lapse" as Pell had ample time to reflect on his previous abuse of one of the boys.

"Despite this, you still indecently acted against (the boy), and did so with what I consider to be a degree of physical aggression and venom," Judge Kidd said.

"It was by no means a minor indecent act."

Judge Kidd rejected a defence argument Pell had been acting as a man, and not an archbishop when the offending occurred.

"Your obvious status as Archbishop cast a powerful shadow over this offending".

He said  Pell's offending "was, on any view, breathtakingly arrogant" and there was "no evidence of your remorse or contrition for me to act upon to reduce your sentence". 

But Judge Kidd also condemned the witch-hunt that followed Pell from his return to Australia in mid-2017 until he was taken into custody last week.

The sentence was not a vindication of trauma suffered by survivors of abuse at the hands of other clergy.

"You are not to be made a scapegoat for any failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church," he said.

Pell, who was until late-February the Vatican's treasurer, is the highest-ranking Catholic to be convicted and jailed for child sexual abuse.

Pell denies all allegations of wrongdoing and has launched an appeal to the convictions, to be heard by the Court of Appeal in June.


The father of the deceased boy molested by Pell said he was disappointed by the short jail term.

The boy never told his parents of the abuse that occurred when he was a 13-year-old choirboy. They only found out after he died of a heroin overdose in 2014, aged 31.

"Our client is disappointed with the short sentencing and has expressed sadness over what he believes is inadequate for the crime," Shine Lawyers' Lisa Flynn said on Wednesday, acting for the boy's father.

Pell's surviving victim, who reported the matter to police, said he respected Judge Kidd's sentencing remarks as "meticulous" and "considered".

"It is hard for me to allow myself to feel the gravity of this moment," the victim said in a statement read by his lawyer, Vivian Waller, outside court.

"It is hard for me, for the time being, to take comfort in this outcome. I appreciate that the court has acknowledged what was inflicted upon me as a child.

"However, there is no rest for me. Everything is overshadowed by the forthcoming appeal. I am aware of a lot of public comment by people who are critical of my evidence."

The victim said a jury unanimously accepted the truth of his evidence, after several days of testimony and cross-examination by Pell's defence.

"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," he said.

"Being a witness in a criminal case has not been easy. I am doing my best to hold myself and my family together."

The father of the deceased boy is pursuing civil action against Pell or the Catholic Church over his death. He believes his son began using heroin when he was 14 to block memories of his abuse.

"Our client is pursuing a civil claim knowing that civil action has the power to disrupt an institution and impact meaningful change to prevent more tragedies from occurring," his lawyer Lisa Flynn said.

"The criminal justice system has only partially satisfied our client's pursuit for justice today. It's now on us as his civil litigators to keep pushing for more just outcomes.

"I admire the courage of my client to keep fighting on behalf of his deceased son. To him, this battle is not over."

An abuse survivor, who wanted to be known as Michael Advocate and had been vocal outside the court throughout the process, labelled Pell's sentence a joke.

"It's absolutely outrageous," he said in one of many TV interviews outside court. "Every victim is sentenced to a lifetime of pain and suffering. They destroy us for life. He gets three years and eight months."

Victims' advocate Cathy Kezelman said the sentence was significant, but not as much as survivors would have hoped.

"It's profoundly disappointing for survivors whose own lives have been destroyed by the crime of child sexual abuse," the Blue Knot Foundation president said.

"It also makes a mockery of the concept of true accountability and is not a sentence commensurate with the crimes committed and the harm reaped."

Another abuse survivor, Robert House, said any jail term was inadequate.

"Of course we'd like more, but we've got something that's considerable and that's a wonderful thing."

Mr House said the significance of the third most powerful person in the Vatican being jailed for child abuse could not be underestimated.

"It sends a powerful message that it doesn't matter what position you sit amongst society, if you commit crimes against children you will get found out and you'll pay the price for it."


Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged Australians to support survivors of child sexual abuse, as the nation reacted to the sentencing of Pell.

"I would just ask Australians today to get around those who have been victims of child sexual abuse," Mr Morrison told reporters on Wednesday ahead of the verdict handed down at 11.15am.

"Let them know we know it happened, that we want to help you be stronger and to survive what is the most abominable you could think that could happen to an individual with a breach of trust.

"For me, it's about those against who this abuse was directed and acted upon. It's the most abhorrent thing I can think of."

Mr Morrison said it was important to ensure victims became survivors of abuse.

"I led the national apology to these victims. My thoughts are only with them."