MELBOURNE • The sentencing of Cardinal George Pell for child sex crimes will be broadcast live today in a rare move by the local judiciary, which had kept his trial under wraps for months with a draconian gag order.
Pell, the most senior Catholic clergyman to be found guilty of child sex abuse, faces a maximum of 50 years in prison for assaulting two choirboys in a Melbourne cathedral from 1996 to 1997.
The 77-year-old Australian was found guilty by a jury last December, but a suppression order from county court Chief Judge Peter Kidd prevented the media from reporting the case until late last month, when prosecutors withdrew plans to hold a second trial.
The controversial suppression order had banned any reporting on Pell's case since June last year.
In support of the principles of "open justice", the Melbourne court said it will allow a video broadcast of Justice Kidd reading out his sentencing remarks. No-one else in the courtroom, including Pell who is in custody, will be filmed.
"The county court is committed to the principles of open justice. Chief Judge Peter Kidd's sentencing remarks in this matter will be broadcast live," said a court spokesman.
Australian courtrooms rarely allow live broadcasts of proceedings and this is believed to be the first time the county court in Melbourne is allowing such a move.
Pell has lodged his leave to appeal against the guilty verdict, with the hearings in the Court of Appeal due to be heard from June 5 to 6.
The verdict ignited a storm of public debate about the Catholic Church's handling of child sex abuse allegations, given Pell's lead role in setting up the process in Melbourne in 1996.
The case is expected to encourage victims of alleged sex abuse by other clergymen to come forward.
Advocates said the sentencing would be an important symbol for other survivors of child sex abuse.
"Hopefully, this sentencing can herald fundamental change in the church and other institutions," Ms Cathy Kezelman, president of child abuse victims support group Blue Knot Foundation, said in a statement yesterday.
"It needs to be a time for zero tolerance to abuse, and survivor respect, support and justice."