Cardinal George Pell, who is the most senior Catholic cleric to ever have been convicted of child abuse is in jail after withdrawing a bail application, but argued that one of his offences was “no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating”.
After the hearing, Pell was taken to a maximum security facility where he will be kept in protective custody and remain alone for up to 23 hours a day. He will be sentenced on 13 March after his conviction for sexually assaulting two 13-year-old boys.
Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter, attempted to argue that there were “no aggravating circumstances” to one of the offences. He described it as “no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating.”
Richter also tried to suggest that an incident in which Pell grabbed one of the boys by the genitals in an attack that lasted seconds was “fleeting” and not worthy of a jail sentence.
He said at one point that if Pell’s victims were “truly distressed” after being abused, they would have returned to their homes exhibiting that distress.
The chief judge, Peter Kidd, responded: “It must be clear to you by now I’m struggling with that submission. Looking at your points here – so what?” He said he saw Pell’s behaviour as “callous, brazen offending” and “shocking conduct”.
The former Australian prime minister John Howard was among those who provided character references for Pell as the cardinal’s legal team tried to argue for a lower-end sentence in Melbourne’s county court on Wednesday morning.
The Vatican on Wednesday also said its doctrinal department will open its own investigation into Pell. “After the guilty verdict in the first instance concerning Cardinal Pell, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) will now handle the case following the procedure and within the time established by canonical norm,” Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti told reporters. A former US cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, was this month dismissed from the priesthood following a CDF investigation.