Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s highest ranking Catholic official and the former head of Vatican finances, is heading to prison. The 77-year-old cardinal is not eligible for parole for three years. He plans to appeal his conviction and has consistently maintained his innocence.
It was the second trial that eventually led to Pell’s conviction on charges that he sexually molested two young choirboys while Archbishop of Melbourne.
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.
Cardinal Pell faced as many as 50 years in prison after being convicted in December for the molestation of two choir boys while he was the archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s. Pell must serve a minimum of three years and eight months before he is eligible for parole.
He will spend the rest of his life as a registered sex offender.
Pell was convicted for the assault of the 13-year-old boys after he caught them swigging sacramental wine in a rear room of Melbourne’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral in late 1996. The jury also found Pell guilty of indecently assaulting one of the boys in a corridor more than a month later.
Chief Judge Peter Kidd of Victoria’s County Court said in his sentencing remarks that Pell’s age and history of cardiac issues were a “significant” factor in his sentencing decision. For the same reasons, Kidd also said did not consider there to be a high risk of Pell reoffending.
During the nearly hour-long sentencing remarks, Kidd called Pell’s attack “brazen” and suggested that the cleric was “breathtakingly arrogant” in his attack on the young boys.
“There is no evidence of your remorse or contrition,” Kidd said Wednesday in court.
Pell is not the only cardinal making news in the criminal courts. French cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon and one of France’s most senior religious figures, was sentenced to a six-month suspended prison sentence for failing to report between July 2014 and June 2015 the sexual abuse allegations made against a priest from his diocese, Bernard Preynat, in the 1980s and 1990s. Preynat is due to go on trial later this year.
“The responsibility and guilt of the cardinal have been confirmed by this judgment. It’s an extraordinary symbol, a moment of huge emotion,” Yves Sauvayre, a lawyer for the victims, told reporters outside the court in Lyon.
Unlike Cardinal Pell, Barbarin will not face any time behind bars due to the suspended nature of his sentence. However, the conviction is a blow to Catholicism in France and all Europe where the ancient faith is being rocked by a sex abuse scandal that never seems to go away.