MELBOURNE, Australia — Cardinal George Pell was sentenced Wednesday to six years imprisonment, after being convicted in December of sexual abuse of two choirboys in 1996. He will be eligible for parole after serving three years and eight months of his sentence.
Chief Judge Peter Kidd handed down the sentence March 13 from the Victoria County Court. Judge Kidd’s remarks of more than 70 minutes were broadcast live.
The prefect emeritus of the Secretariat for the Economy has maintained his innocence, and will apply to appeal his conviction in June.
Cardinal Pell, 77, had been incarcerated at the Melbourne Assessment Prison while he awaited the results of the sentencing hearing.
The cardinal was convicted on five counts of sex abuse based on charges he sexually assaulted two choirboys while serving as Archbishop of Melbourne.
It was the cardinal’s second trial, as a jury in an earlier trial had failed to reach a unanimous verdict. The first jury were deadlocked 10-2 in Pell’s favor.
His appeal will be made on three points: the jury’s reliance on the evidence of a single victim; an irregularity that kept Cardinal Pell from entering his not guilty plea in front of the jury; and the defense not being allowed to show a visual representation supporting his claim of innocence.
The appeal document says that “the verdicts are unreasonable and cannot be supported, having regard to the evidence, because on the whole of the evidence, including unchallenged exculpatory evidence from more than 20 Crown witnesses, it was not open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the word of the complainant alone.”
Another Australian prelate, Archbishop Philip Wilson, was convicted in May of failing to report allegations of child sexual abuse disclosed to him in the 1970s. But in December a district judge overturned that conviction, saying there was reasonable doubt a crime had been committed. Before his conviction was overturned, Archbishop Wilson served about five months of a 12-month home detention sentence.
Cardinal Pell’s conviction has met with varied reactions. While many figures in Australian media have lauded his conviction, some Australians have called it into question, prompting considerable debate across the country.
Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, suggested that the justice process was tainted by media and police forces that had worked “to blacken the name” of Cardinal Pell “before he went to trial.”
“This is not a story about whether a jury got it right or wrong, or about whether justice is seen to prevail,” Craven said in a Feb. 27 opinion piece in The Australian. “It’s a story about whether a jury was ever given a fair chance to make a decision, and whether our justice system can be heard above a media mob.”
Pell was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Ballarat in 1966. He was consecrated a bishop in 1987, and appointed auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, becoming ordinary of the see in 1996. Pell was then Archbishop of Sydney from 2001 to 2014, when he was made prefect of the newly-created Secretariat for the Economy. He served on Pope Francis’ Council of Cardinals from 2013 to 2018. Cardinal Pell ceased to be prefect of the economy secretariat Feb. 24.