Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to a total of six years in prison Tuesday evening after his conviction for sexually abusing two choir boys in Melbourne, Australia in the 1990s.
“In my view, your conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance,” County Court of Victoria Chief Judge Peter Kidd said in the sentencing, which took more than an hour.
“Viewed overall, I consider your moral culpability across both episodes to be high.”
Kidd set a non-parole period of three years and eight months. Pell, 77, will be registered as a sex offender for life, he said.
In explaining his sentencing decision, the judge said Pell had led an “otherwise blameless life.” Kidd said he believed given Pell’s age and lack of any other criminal record, the cardinal posed no risk of re-offending.
Kidd also took pains to note that he was sentencing Pell for the offences on which the cardinal had been convicted and not for the sins of the Catholic Church.
Not a scapegoat for church’s ‘failings’
“As I directed the jury who convicted you in this trial, you are not to be made a scapegoat for any failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church,” he said.
But the judge noted that Pell had abused his position of power and had shown no remorse for his crimes.
“In my view, the first episode in the priest’s sacristy involved a brazen and forceful sexual attack on the two victims,” Kidd told a packed court.
“The acts were sexually graphic. Both victims were visibly and audibly distressed during this offending,” he said, adding Pell’s behaviour had a “nasty element.”
Faced a maximum of 50 years
In a rare move reflecting interest in the high-profile case, the sentencing was broadcast live on television although the camera showed only the judge and not the courtroom.
Pell, the most senior Catholic worldwide to be convicted for child sex offences, faced a maximum of 10 years in jail for each of the four charges of indecent acts and one charge of sexual penetration on which he was found guilty.
A jury unanimously convicted Pell in December, however the verdict was only made public on Feb 26, when further child sex offence charges against Pell dating back to the 1970s were dropped.
One of Pell’s victims died of a heroin overdose in 2014 at the age of 31 without ever reporting the abuse.
The survivor made a statement against Pell the following year to a police task force set up to investigate allegations that arose from a parliamentary inquiry into handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organizations.
Pell maintained his innocence throughout and has filed an appeal on three grounds, set to be heard in June. He has been in jail since Feb. 27, when his bail was revoked after a sentence plea hearing.
Reaction to be ‘highly emotionally charged’
The court had come under fire for suppressing coverage of Pell’s trial, as he is seen as the face of the Catholic Church in Australia which has protected pedophile priests.
The suppression order was intended to ensure an impartial jury in the second trial that had been planned.
“Given the speculation and outpouring of anger and distress over the conviction, the reaction to sentencing will be likely highly emotionally charged and extremely polarizing,” said Cathy Kezelman, president of the Blue Knot Foundation, a support group for victims of childhood trauma.
Pell was once the highest-ranking Catholic in Australia’s second-largest city, where he is now a prisoner in protective security.
Pedophiles such as Pell are typically separated from the main prison populations in Australia.
This story originally appeared on CBC