Australia’s Cardinal Pell remanded into custody for child sex offences

VIDEO: REUTERS
Convicted Australian Cardinal George Pell is facing up to 50 years' jail after being convicted on five counts of sexual and indecent assault.
Convicted Australian Cardinal George Pell is facing up to 50 years' jail after being convicted on five counts of sexual and indecent assault.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE (REUTERS, AFP) - Australia’s Cardinal George Pell, a former top adviser to Pope Francis, was remanded into custody on Wednesday (Feb 26) after a sentence plea hearing on his conviction for sexually abusing two choir boys more than two decades ago.

Pell will be formally sentenced on March 13.

Pell faces a maximum of 10 years in jail for each of five child sex offences, which included indecent assault and one charge of sexual penetration.

His lawyers have lodged an appeal against his conviction.

Pell was found guilty of child sex abuse in December. The guilty verdict was revealed on Tuesday after a court suppression order was dropped.

Judge Peter Kidd revoked Pell’s bail on Wednesday, granted for medical treatment after his 2018 trial, and he was immediately taken into custody at the end of the plea hearing.

Pell, the Vatican’s former treasurer, is the most senior Catholic clergyman in the world to be convicted for child sex offences, an outcome that shocked the church and his supporters.

“This offending warrants immediate imprisonment,” prosecutor Mark Gibson told the court on Wednesday. “It involved two vulnerable boys, given their age, 13.”

Pell’s lawyer Robert Richter argued for a lenient sentence.

Ten character references submitted for Pell describe him as a man of great passion, with a great sense of humour who could relate to everyone from prime ministers to street beggars, Mr Richter told the court.

“None of them believe he is capable of this,” Mr Richter said.

Pell was harangued by angry protesters who called him a "maggot" and a "monster" as he arrived at the Melbourne court for a pre-sentencing hearing a day after his conviction was made public.

 
 
 

A large media pack and crowd confronted the cardinal as he arrived in court, with one protester screaming: "You're a maggot, Pell, you rot in hell."

"You're the devil", "You're evil... You're a paedophile", "Criminal", "monster", "May you rot in hell", other protesters shouted.

Shortly before Wednesday's hearing, Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti announced on Twitter that Pell had been removed from his position as chief of Vatican finances, the third-most powerful position in the Church.

The Vatican said earlier it had "utmost respect" for the Australian justice system following the "painful news" of Pell's conviction.

The Court of Appeal process, which could last up to a year, will see a bench usually made up of three judges review the same evidence that the jurors were presented with in the earlier trial.

Criminal law expert Jeremy Gans of the University of Melbourne told AFP the judges could question the jury's conclusions based on the fact that the case was based on only one person's - the surviving victim's - testimony.

The other choirboy, who died of a drug overdose in 2014, had never told his parents he was abused.

During the trial, the court had heard that Pell abused the two boys after catching them swigging from a bottle of sacramental wine.

He exposed himself and forced one of them to perform oral sex on him, and fondled the boy's genitals while masturbating.