An Australian court on Wednesday sentenced former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell to six years in jail for sexually abusing two choir boys in a Melbourne cathedral in 1996, Reuters reported. The 77-year-old is the highest ranking Catholic priest to be convicted of child sex offences and has also faced allegations that he covered up complaints of child sexual abuse by priests.
Pell was held guilty in December. He has maintained his innocence and has filed an appeal on three grounds, which will be heard in June.
“In my view, your conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance,” County Court of Victoria Chief Judge Peter Kidd said in the sentencing. “Viewed overall, I consider your moral culpability across both episodes to be high.”
Pell was ordered to sign the sex offender register and was sentenced to a minimum of three years and eight months in jail, AFP reported. You “may not live to be released from prison” the judge told the priest, accusing him of a “brazen and forceful sexual attack on the two victims.” The cardinal faced a maximum 50 years in prison for the five charges.
Prosecutors accused Pell of forcing the boys, whom he found drinking communion wine in a cathedral room at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, into “indecent acts”. Pell then was archbishop of Melbourne. He allegedly abused one of the boys in 1997 again. One of the accusers died in 2014 of an accidental heroin overdose, having never disclosed the abuse.
However, the judge said Pell was “not to be made a scapegoat for any failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church”. His appeal has been scheduled for a hearing on June 5 and 6.
“A small amount of justice has been done today,” an advocate for the victims said outside the court. “I don’t think six years is long enough.”