March 12, 2019 / 3:11 AM / 3 months ago

Australia's Cardinal Pell faces sentencing for abusing two choir boys

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell will be sentenced on Wednesday after his conviction for sexually abusing two choir boys in Melbourne in the 1990s, with the judge expected to impose a prison term on the Catholic Cardinal.

FILE PHOTO: Vatican Treasurer Cardinal George Pell is surrounded by Australian police as he leaves the Melbourne Magistrates Court in Australia, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Mark Dadswell/File photo

In a rare move reflecting interest in the high-profile case, the sentencing will be broadcast live on television although the camera will only show the judge and not the court room.

Pell, the most senior Catholic worldwide to be convicted for child sex offences, faces 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 the 77 year-old 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.

Pell has 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 He has been in jail since Feb. 27, when his bail was revoked after a sentence plea hearing.

The County Court of Victoria 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 paedophile 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 polarising,” said Cathy Kezelman, president of the Blue Knot Foundation, a support group for victims of childhood trauma.

Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, argued for a light sentence, based on Pell’s age, heart problems, no prior history of offending, no physical injuries to the victims and the fact the duration of the offences was short.

Richter sparked a furore when, in seeking a light sentence, he called the offence “a plain vanilla sexual penetration case”, remarks for which he later apologised.

The court’s chief judge, Peter Kidd, said he was not convinced by those arguments, saying Pell had engaged in “callous, brazen offending” against two boys in a room with an open door, causing trauma and distress.

“It was imbued with arrogance, aggression and impunity,” Kidd told the court.

The court said Kidd’s sentencing would be aired live by the Australian Broadcasting Corp at 10 a.m. (2300 GMT) on Wednesday.

“The County Court is committed to the principles of open justice,” a spokesman said.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Robert Birsel

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