The gaoling of Cardinal George Pell

By | | comments |
Courtroom sketch of George Pell during his sentencing (Screenshot via YouTube)

Disgraced Cardinal George Pell has been given his sentence in the case of child sex abuse, with mixed reactions from the public, writes Dr Lee Duffield.

CARDINAL GEORGE PELL has been sentenced to six years gaol with a non-parole period of three years and eight months for his sexual assault against two boys in church.

Total sentences for five charges on which Pell was found guilty came to 12 years and nine months, with part of that time, relating to one main episode of offending, to be served concurrently. The maximum sentence for the principal charge was ten years, and he will be remitted time for two weeks already served in custody.


The Chief Judge of the Victorian County Court, Peter Kidd, delivered his sentence in a live broadcast from Melbourne on Wednesday following Pell’s conviction last December.

The Judge directly addressed the convicted man, reiterating earlier statements that he had acted brazenly and arrogantly, failing to show remorse or contrition and, through not giving evidence on his own behalf, would receive no “guilty plea” discount of sentence.

He made mention of details in the evidence where Pell had groped the 13-year-old victims and demanded an act of fellatio in the Cathedral Sacristy. In a second incident, he had pushed one boy up against a wall.

Judge Kidd said he had balanced the defendant’s age and state of health, good conduct since the offences 22 years ago and lack of likelihood of any further offending against the requirements of the law for just sentencing in cases of sexual abuse against children.

He had taken into account heavy “extra-curial” punishments already received in Pell’s case, involving notoriety, stress and abuse directed at him in public. The “awful situation” he would face in his life, going to gaol under protective custody had also been considered.

He said while Pell had abused his powerful position he had become “effectively reformed” over the course of time.

Towards the end of the lengthy and detailed statement he said:

“I am required to examine all aspects in the case. It is not a mathematical exercise. This balancing… is what individual justice demands.”


Responses to Pell’s conviction for the 1996 sexual assault of two choirboys within his cathedral while Archbishop of Melbourne generated shock – especially among Catholics – some sense of relief among victims of child abuse and their supporters and rejection of the verdict among friends of the Cardinal who shared his hard-line Right-wing politics.

He has launched an appeal which is expected to be heard this year, possibly in June, with legal authorities divided on how it might go.

Many like the former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, have withheld public comments until after that takes place.

Survivor support groups outside the court in Melbourne applauded the sentencing but had to take in advice from the Judge in his statement — that the conviction of Pell was not a verdict for all the other cases. Justice was available case-by-case under the terms of the law.

The one direct witness and victim in the Pell case issued a statement through his lawyer, Vivian Waller, saying he appreciated the court’s acknowledgment of what he had suffered, although it was “overshadowed” for him by the coming appeal.

He wanted to remain anonymous to protect himself and his loved ones:

“It is hard for me to allow myself to feel the gravity of this moment.”


“I took the difficulty step of reporting to police about a high-profile person and I stood up to give my evidence.”

Paul Collins, a former priest and writer who has been commentating on the Pell case, said many Catholics were confused by developments but he believed the majority accepted the verdict and would work within the Church to ensure protection and justice for survivors.


The verdict against Pell closely followed the four-day summit called by Pope Francis in Rome (20-24 February), on sexual abuse of children by clergy. The gathering of Cardinals, Bishops and heads of religious orders concluded with the Pope’s call for an “all-out battle” against abuse. It determined on producing a Guidebook for Bishops on managing cases.

Victims of abuse gathered outside of the meeting. Several video testimonials by victims were watched there, but representatives expressed disappointment they were not invited to give presentations and called for more definite action such as mandatory reporting of all offenders to police.

George Pell was convicted unanimously by a jury on 11 December 2018. The verdict was released in court on 26 February 2019 and bail was revoked at a pre-sentence hearing the next day. He was sentenced on 13 March and has filed an appeal.

Media editor Dr Lee Duffield is a former ABC foreign correspondent, political journalist and academic.  

Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.

Recent articles by Lee Duffield
Voice Referendum: Old-fashioned racism driving 'No' campaign

With the drive for a consensus on the Voice to Parliament causing anger on the ...  
Vale Barry Humphries: Possums to gather at Opera House for chunder session

Dr Lee Duffield remembers the creator and personifier of Dame Edna Everage, and ...  
More public housing would help those in Australia doing it tough

The 'housing crisis' could use a dose of democratic big government, with state ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate