Cardinal George Pell sentenced to 6 years in prison for abusing choir boys

Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to 6 years in prison on Tuesday evening after his conviction for sexually abusing two choir boys in Melbourne in the 1990s.

'Your conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance,' Australian judge says

Cardinal George Pell arrives at County Court in Melbourne Feb. 27. He has been sentenced to six years in prison. (AAP Image/Erik Anderson/Reuters)

Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to a total of six years in prison Tuesday evening after his conviction for sexually abusing two choir boys in Melbourne, Australia in the 1990s.

"In my view, your conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance," County Court of Victoria Chief Judge Peter Kidd said in the sentencing, which took more than an hour.

"Viewed overall, I consider your moral culpability across both episodes to be high."

Kidd set a non-parole period of three years and eight months. Pell, 77, will be registered as a sex offender for life, he said.

in this still image taken from video, Chief Judge Peter Kidd delivers the sentence for Pell on live television. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation/Reuters)

In explaining his sentencing decision, the judge said Pell had led an "otherwise blameless life." Kidd said he believed given Pell's age and lack of any other criminal record, the cardinal posed no risk of re-offending.

Kidd also took pains to note that he was sentencing Pell for the offences on which the cardinal had been convicted and not for the sins of the Catholic Church.

Not a scapegoat for church's 'failings'

"As I directed the jury who convicted you in this trial, you are not to be made a scapegoat for any failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church," he said.

But the judge noted that Pell had abused his position of power and had shown no remorse for his crimes.

"In my view, the first episode in the priest's sacristy involved a brazen and forceful sexual attack on the two victims," Kidd told a packed court.

"The acts were sexually graphic. Both victims were visibly and audibly distressed during this offending," he said, adding Pell's behaviour had a "nasty element."

'No rest for me,' victim says

Pell showed no emotion during the hearing and barely moved throughout. He stood silently with his hands behind his back as the judge read his sentence. Pell signed documents that registered him for life as a serious sexual offender before he was led from the dock by four prison officers.

In a statement, one of Pell's victims called the judge's sentence "meticulous and considered."

"It is hard for me to allow myself to feel the gravity of this moment, the moment when the sentence is handed down, the moment when justice is done," the man said in a statement read outside court by one of his lawyers, Vivian Waller.

"It is hard for me, for the time being, to take comfort in this outcome. I appreciate that the court has acknowledged what was inflicted upon me as a child. However, there is no rest for me. Everything is overshadowed by the forthcoming appeal."

Faced a maximum of 50 years

In a rare move reflecting interest in the high-profile case, the sentencing was broadcast live on television although the camera showed only the judge and not the courtroom. 

Pell, the most senior Catholic worldwide to be convicted for child sex offences, faced 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 Pell 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.

Protesters rally outside the courthouse as the judge sentences Pell. ( AAP Image/Daniel Pockett/Reuters)

One of Pell's victims died of a heroin overdose in 2014 at the age of 31 without ever reporting the abuse.

The survivor made a statement against Pell the following year to a police task force set up to investigate allegations that arose from a parliamentary inquiry into handling of child abuse by religious and other non-government organizations. 

Pell 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 court had come under fire for suppressing coverage of Pell's trial, as he is seen as the face of the Catholic Church in Australia that has protected priests who were sexual abusers.

The suppression order was intended to ensure an impartial jury in the second trial that had been planned.

Pell was once the highest-ranking Catholic in Australia's second-largest city, where he is now a prisoner in protective security.

Pedophiles such as Pell are typically separated from the main prison populations in Australia.

With files from The Associated Press and CBC News