Australian Cardinal Pell to spend his first night in prison
MELBOURNE, Australia—The most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sex abuse will face his first night in prison Wednesday while he waits two weeks to learn his sentence for molesting two choirboys in a Melbourne cathedral two decades ago.
Victorian state County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd revoked Cardinal George Pell’s bail at the end of a sentencing hearing. Kidd said he would deliver his sentence on March 13.
The 77-year-old Pell, who could face five decades in prison, showed no expression as he walked from the dock with a cane escorted by three court security officers and a prison guard.
A jury unanimously convicted Pell in December of abusing the two 13-year-olds in a rear room of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 weeks after becoming archbishop of Australia’s second-largest city. But unusually, Pell wasn’t taken into custody immediately because he had surgery scheduled to have both knees replaced.
Pell faced an abusive crowd Wednesday as he entered court half an hour before his sentencing hearing was scheduled.
“I hope you burn in hell!” one man shouted while pushing against a cluster of police officers trying to shield the cardinal as he walked into the courthouse. “You’re a pedophile! You’re a criminal! You’re a monster!”
Kidd continued Pell’s bail until his sentencing hearing, but warned Pell that it did not indicate he would avoid a custodial sentence.
The court had until Tuesday forbidden publication of any details about the trial because Pell had faced a second trial in April on charges that he indecently assaulted two boys aged 9 or 10 and 11 or 12 as a young priest in the late 1970s in a public pool in his hometown of Ballarat.
But prosecutor Fran Dalziel told the court on Tuesday that the Ballarat charges had been dropped and asked for the suppression order to be lifted. The move came days after a judge ruled out two key prosecution witnesses in the Ballarat case.
Pope Francis removed Pell as a member of his informal Cabinet in October. He had remained prefect of the Vatican’s economy ministry, but his five-year term expired this month, acting Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said.
Gisotti tweeted that Pell “is no longer” the Holy See’s economy chief.
Pell faces a potential 50-year prison sentence for five convictions of sexual penetration and indecent acts involving the boys.
The judge said Pell was guilty of a breach of trust with an element of brutality and had had a sense of impunity. “I see this as callus, brazen offending — blatant,” Kidd said.
Pell had maintained his innocence throughout, describing the accusations as “vile and disgusting conduct.” His lawyers have appealed the convictions and were scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal on Wednesday afternoon to apply for bail. But the bail application was later withdrawn. No date has been set for an appeal hearing.
Sex offenders in Victoria state would normally be sent to prison after they are convicted and while awaiting sentence.
Pell’s lawyer Robert Richter has said a custodial sentence is inevitable. He provided 10 character references for Pell, including one from former Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
Prosecutor Mark Gibson said Pell was guilty of serious offenses against vulnerable boys. “The prisoner has shown no remorse or insight into his offending,” he told the court.
Richter said he did not object to police taking a mouth swab from Pell to add to a DNA database of serious criminals. Such forensic samples are mandatory for serious crimes.
Gisotti read a statement to reporters Tuesday at the Vatican, saying Francis has confirmed “precautionary measures” already taken against Pell, including a ban on his celebrating Mass in public and “as is the rule, contact in any way or form with minors.”
The victim who testified at Pell’s trial said in a statement that since the conviction was revealed, he has experienced “shame, loneliness, depression and struggle.” The man said it had taken him years to understand the impact the assault had on his life.
The other victim died of a heroin overdose that his father attributed to the aftermath of the abuse. Neither victim can be named under state law.
The revelations in the Pell case came in the same month that the Vatican announced that Francis approved the expulsion from the priesthood of a former high-ranking American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, for sexual abuse of minors and adults.
The convictions were also confirmed days after Francis concluded his extraordinary summit of Catholic leaders summoned to Rome for a tutorial on preventing clergy sexual abuse and protecting children from predator priests. /jpv
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