Australian Cardinal Pell faces abuse sentencing hearing

Australian Cardinal George Pell holds a candle as Pope Francis leads the Easter vigil mass in Saint Peter's basilica at the Vatican, April 15, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 27 February 2019

Australian Cardinal Pell faces abuse sentencing hearing

  • Pope Francis removed Pell as a member of his informal cabinet in October
  • Pell faced an abusive crowd as he entered court half an hour before his hearing was scheduled

MELBOURNE, Australia: The most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sex abuse could face his first night in custody after a sentencing hearing Wednesday that will decide his punishment for molesting two choirboys in a Melbourne cathedral two decades ago.
A Victoria state County Court jury unanimously convicted Cardinal George Pell in December of abusing the two 13-year-olds in a rear room of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 weeks after becoming archbishop of Australia’s second-largest city.
But unusually, Pell wasn’t taken into custody immediately because he had surgery scheduled to have both knees replaced.
Chief Judge Peter Kidd continued Pell’s bail until his sentencing hearing, but warned Pell that did not indicate he would avoid a custodial sentence.
Pope Francis removed Pell as a member of his informal cabinet in October. He had remained prefect of the Vatican’s economy ministry, but his five-year term expired this month, acting Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said.
Gisotti tweeted that Pell “is no longer” the Holy See’s economy chief.
Pell faces a potential 50 years in prison for five convictions of sexual penetration and indecent acts involving the boys.
The judge said Pell was guilty of a breach of trust with an element of brutality and had had a sense of impunity. “I see this as callus, brazen offending — blatant,” Kidd said.
The judge will not announce Pell’s sentence on Wednesday, but he has yet to announce a date. Pell’s convictions and details of his crimes had been suppressed by a court order until Tuesday.
Pell faced an abusive crowd as he entered court half an hour before his hearing was scheduled.
“I hope you burn in hell!” one man shouted while pushing against a cluster of police officers trying to shield the cardinal as he walked into the courthouse. “You’re a pedophile! You’re a criminal! You’re a monster!“
Pell had maintained his innocence throughout, describing the accusations as “vile and disgusting conduct.” His lawyers have appealed the convictions and will apply for bail in the Court of Appeal later Wednesday. No date has been set for an appeal hearing.
Sex offenders in Victoria state would normally be sent to prison after they are convicted and while awaiting sentence.
Pell’s lawyer Robert Richter has said a custodial sentence is inevitable.
Prosecutor Mark Gibson said Pell was guilty of serious offenses against vulnerable boys. “The prisoner has shown no remorse or insight into his offending,” Gibson told the court.
Richter said he did not object to police taking a Pell mouth swab to add to a DNA database of serious criminals. Such forensic samples are mandatory for serious crimes.
Gisotti read a statement to reporters Tuesday at the Vatican, saying Francis has confirmed “precautionary measures” already taken against Pell, including a ban on his celebrating Mass in public and “as is the rule, contact in any way or form with minors.”
The victim who testified at Pell’s trial said after the conviction was revealed that he has experienced “shame, loneliness, depression and struggle.” In his statement, the man said it had taken him years to understand the impact the assault had on his life.
The other man died of a heroin overdose his father attributed to the aftermath of the abuse. Neither victim can be named under state law.
The revelations in the Pell case came in the same month that the Vatican announced Francis approved the expulsion from the priesthood of a former high-ranking American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, for sexual abuse of minors and adults.
The convictions were also confirmed days after Francis concluded his extraordinary summit of Catholic leaders summoned to Rome for a tutorial on preventing clergy sexual abuse and protecting children from predator priests.
Australia’s ranking bishop, Mark Coleridge, who delivered the homily at the final Mass of the summit, said Pell’s convictions “shocked many across Australia and around the world, including the Catholic Bishops of Australia.”


UK PM says schools must open in September

Updated 42 min 42 sec ago

UK PM says schools must open in September

  • A study has warned that Britain risks a second wave of COVID-19 this winter if schools open without an improved test-and-trace system
  • The government wants all pupils to return to school by early September

LONDON: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said reopening schools in September was a social, economic and moral imperative and insisted they would be able to operate safely despite the ongoing threat from the pandemic.
His comments follow a study earlier this month which warned that Britain risks a second wave of COVID-19 this winter twice as large as the initial outbreak if schools open without an improved test-and-trace system.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Johnson said restarting schools was a national priority. Schools would be the last places to close in future local lockdowns, he was quoted by another newspaper as telling a meeting on Thursday.
Schools in England closed in March during a national lockdown, except for the children of key workers, and reopened in June for a small number of pupils.
The government wants all pupils to return to school by early September in what Johnson has called a “national priority.”
“Keeping our schools closed a moment longer than absolutely necessary is socially intolerable, economically unsustainable and morally indefensible,” Johnson wrote.
The economic costs for parents who cannot work if schools are shut are spiralling, and the country faces big problems if children miss out on education, the prime minister warned.
“This pandemic isn’t over, and the last thing any of us can afford to do is become complacent. But now that we know enough to reopen schools to all pupils safely, we have a moral duty to do so,” he wrote.
The Sunday Times newspaper reported that he has ordered a public relations campaign to ensure schools open on time and told the meeting last week that they should be the last places to close behind restaurants, pubs and shops.