Investigations into the cases of abuse perpetuated by Catholic clergymen over the decades have caused a major stir in the course of the past few months, with more and more shocking discoveries revealed to the public, but this hunt for retribution might just have claimed its biggest scalp yet. Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Vatican official to be convicted of sexual abuse to date, has been sentenced to six years in prison for the "callous" assault of two choirboys in the late 1990s.
A former senior adviser to Pope Francis, Pell showed no reaction when Chief Judge Peter Kidd handed down his sentence in a hearing broadcast live worldwide on Wednesday from Victoria's County Court in central Melbourne. Pell, 77, was found guilty of one count of sexual penetration of a child and four counts of committing an indecent act with a child last December after a secret five-week trial. Reporting of the trial and verdict was suppressed by the court to avoid prejudicing a second trial, which crown prosecutors abandoned in February after the judge ruled some prosecution evidence couldn't be submitted.
On Wednesday, Judge Kidd said Pell's attack on the victims was "breathtakingly arrogant" adding that the cardinal had assaulted the boys with "callous indifference to the victims' distress."
But the judge said Pell was "not to be made a scapegoat for any failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church."
Outside the court, survivors of Catholic sex abuse who had attended the hearing were divided on the sentence. Some felt justice had been done, while others thought the judge had been too lenient.
'What a joke!": The world has reacted with fury to George Pell’s jail sentence, with many saying it was too light and questioning the message it sends. https://t.co/azV92NgeDg— news.com.au (@newscomauHQ) March 13, 2019
"Part of what went on today was absolutely rubbish," said a survivor known by the alias Michael Advocate, who watched the sentence on a live feed outside court, his head in his hands.
"It's just insulting to the victims and it's insulting to all the other survivors like myself," Advocate stated. "There's a disconnect between the sentence that is regularly handed out to paedophile and the lifelong damage that is done to the victim."
In a statement after the sentencing, the surviving victim said it was hard for him "to take comfort in this outcome."
"There is no rest for me," he said through his lawyer, Vivian Waller. "I'm doing my best to hold myself and my family together."
The second victim died of a heroin overdose a few years ago. The deceased victim's father said he was "disappointed" with the length of the sentence.
"(Pell) can rot in hell, and rot in prison. I just wished that it was longer, that's all I can say," he said.
Until last month Pell held the role of Vatican treasurer, considered by many to be the third most senior position within the Roman Catholic church. Pell's legal team has previously announced it will appeal his conviction on three grounds, including that the jury's verdict on all five charges was unreasonable, based on the evidence submitted. The Court of Appeal is due to hear submissions in early June 2019.
How many more cases of abuse would be uncovered? When would the inquests get to Africa, and Nigeria to be precise? When would people speak up in these parts, in defiance of the "touch not my anointed" mantra? These and other questions are subject to determination in the future, and hopefully, justice for other victims of abuse doesn't delay for too long.
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