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What the world learned about Cardinal George Pell's child sex offences during his sentencing.

The following contains details of sexual assault which may be distressing. For 24-hour support, please call 1800 RESPECT. 

“The offending which the jury has found you have engaged in was, in any view, breathtakingly arrogant.”

The world has just watched Melbourne County Chief Judge Peter Kidd as he sentenced paedophile George Pell via live-stream to six years imprisonment for the sexual abuse of two young boys, with a non-parole period of three years eight months.

Those inside the court room have described Pell holding his hands behind his back, with no visible reaction as he learnt his fate.

Listen to Mia Freedman, Holly Wainwright & Jessie Stephens unpack the Pell verdict on Mamamia Out Loud… Post continues after audio. 

Judge Kidd started his more than an hour long sentencing by choosing to give both Pell and the watching audience, of which he knew was global, some context.

“I am mindful I am sentencing you in a unique context. It’s important I address that.

“It is vital you and the community understand this. You are not to be made a scapegoat for the Catholic church’s failings. You have not been convicted of such failings.

“So to other victims of abuse, that might be in court, or listening, this sentence is not a vindication of your trauma. He hasn’t been committed of wrongs against you. He can’t be punished for that. I understand you seek justice, but it has to be done in the context of a court of law.

“I am not sitting in judgement of the Catholic religion or the Catholic church. It is you, George Pell, who falls to be sentenced,” said Judge Kidd.

“We have witnessed in the court and in the community a witch hunt. I condemn that. It’s got nothing to do with justice. We act as a bulwark against that behaviour.

“While I must punish you, you are entitled to the balance and steady hand of justice,” he continued.

Judge Kidd then went on to outline the five sexual abuse charges of which Pell was found guilty of by a unanimous jury in December.

He faces one charge of sexually penetrating a child and four of committing an indecent act with children.

In 1996, Pell abused two 13-year-old choirboys in the cathedral sacristy after celebrating one of his first Sunday masses as Archbishop at St Patrick’s cathedral in Melbourne.

He caught the boys drinking holy wine, and told them something to the effect of “you’re in trouble.”

george pell
Cardinal George Pell has been sentenced to six years prison. He is eligible for parole in three years eight months. Image: Getty.
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The then-Archbishop moved his robes to expose his penis and forced one of the boy's heads towards it.

Judge Kidd described this as having a "nasty element," saying that this conduct must have been particularly confronting for the victim.

Pell then moved on to the second boy and orally raped him. He then ordered the boy to remove his pants and molested him as he masturbated.  Judge Kidd described it as an "act of violence."

The second incident which happened a month later in a cathedral corridor involved Pell pushing one of the boys against a wall and groping him.

Judge Kidd described this particular incident as having a degree of "aggression and venom."

"While the indecent act in the corridor was brief and spontaneous, it is coloured by the fact you'd sexually assaulted him a month before. It can not be judged as an isolated lapse, you'd had ample time to reflect," he said.

In outlining the gravity of Pell's offending, Judge Kidd described it as brazen and forcible, sexually graphic, degrading and humiliating.

He made it clear he rejected the defence's submission that Pell wasn't 'acting rationally,' retorting that there was no medical or psychological evidence to suggest his mental capacity was diminished in any way.

"There is no evidence you were other than a lucid, attentive and competent man. There is evidence you had just successfully delivered Sunday mass. A public role requiring discipline and focus," said Judge Kidd.

Judge Kidd spent a significant amount of time talking about Pell's abuse of authority and position of power. He suggested that it was because of this power, that he wasn't so worried about the risk it posed, abusing the boys inside an unlocked room.

"The offending was breathtakingly arrogant," he said.

"The full weight of your authority and power would have been very obvious to your victims and you.

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"Your admonishment of the victims was an explicit expression of your authority over them. The brazenness is indicative of your authority and power. You did it despite the risk, without the door closed. You had a degree of confidence they wouldn't complain," said the judge.

The defence had been, during the trial, trying to argue that Pell be convicted as the man, not the Archbishop.

"You seized upon the opportunity given to you in that setting to abuse them. The authority you held carried with it a significant element of trust. The argument of your counsel that this offending was committed by you, George Pell the man, and not by you, the Archbishop must be roundly rejected. I do so without hesitation. Your obvious status as Archbishop cast a powerful shadow over this offending," he replied.

It was also submitted by the defence, that it should be taken into account Pell did not groom or pre-plan the attack, but the judge declared that the absence of those aggravating elements wasn't determinate of what he actually did.

"Despite there being no grooming, you made a reasoned and deliberate decision. Your moral culpability is high."

"I reject the submission of your counsel that the offending in the first episode or the sexual penetration was at, or towards, the lower end of the spectrum of seriousness. In my view it does not even approach low-end offending," he said.

The judge made it clear to point out that Pell maintained his innocence, and therefore showed no level of remorse, and wouldn't get leniency in his sentence as he might do, if he pleaded guilty.

He touched on the character references he was provided, one of which was from former Prime Minister John Howard. They painted a picture of a man with an exceptional career. Someone who was compassionate, generous, and who had a deep commitment to social justice and education.

Since the offending 22 years ago, the judge is satisfied that Pell has led an otherwise blameless life, and made note of the fact that due to Pell's age, he was likely to die in prison.

"The delay in your case since defending is 22 years. This is not unusual. Victims often don't come forward for many years. But it has consequences. The delay means you have been able to show the capacity to leave a blameless life since the offending," explained Judge Kidd.

He also said Pell didn't pose a risk to society and had effectively reformed. He also stated that Pell would remain on the sex offenders list for life.

"I reject the proposition general deterrence should be moderated in your case. The offences you Cardinal Pell committed were each intentional offences. The message the courts send to would-be child sexual offenders must be unequivocal," said the judge.

Before delivering his sentence Judge Kidd said this; "sentencing is often simplistically portrayed by some in the public as being an easy and uncomplicated task. the exercise is far from an easy one. It's certainly not simple."

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Pell was given a total effective sentence of six years, which is cumulative of all of the charges against him. He will be eligible for parole in three years and eight months, and the 14 days he has already served are considered time reckoned.

Pell's appeal will be heard in June.

If you have experienced sexual assault and are in need of support, please call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732. Help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also contact Bravehearts for counselling and support for survivors of sexual abuse on 1800 272 831, Lifeline for 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention, or, if you’re the partner of a person who has experienced sexual assault, you can contact PartnerSPEAK on (03) 9018 7872 for peer support for non-offending partners. 

For more on this topic:

“He was a different boy”. The family of one of George Pell’s victims share their heartbreak.

George Pell is not what a Catholic looks like.

George Pell’s lawyer said his client’s offence was a ‘vanilla’ sexual abuse case. There is no such thing.

What George Pell’s defenders cannot possibly know about his victim.

The telling words George Pell uttered 16 years ago that shocked members of his own church. 

“He was practically shouting.” Exactly how George Pell tried to ‘prove’ his innocence in court.

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