Cardinal George Pell's offending was 'plain, vanilla' child abuse - defence lawyer

Cardinal George Pell's lawyer described his offending as a "plain, vanilla case" of sexual abuse in a Melbourne court on Wednesday.

The former member of the Pope's inner circle is in prison for the first time, and the judge has hinted he'll receive a long sentence.

Once Australia's most powerful Catholics is now a symbol of church abuse, facing up to 10 years in prison on each of five charges of child sexual assault.

"It's justice being served," sex abuse campaigner Chrissy Foster said. "It's the wheels of justice turning and it's a great day for victims."

The Cardinal's crimes were recounted in detail at a pre-sentence hearing in the County Court.

The court heard how he caught two 13-year-old choirboys inside Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral drinking sacramental wine in an off limits room; how he cornered them, told them they were in trouble, exposed his penis, and assaulted them both.

"This offending warrants immediate imprisonment," Crown prosecutor Mark Gibson said. "It involved two vulnerable boys."

Pell's lawyer Robert Richter presented character references which painted him as "a man who has a great deal of compassion, a man who has a great sense of humour... none of them would believe him capable of this."

One of those references came from former Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and was written after Pell had been convicted.

The defence called the abuse "plain, vanilla offending". Chief Judge Peter Kidd chose different words to define Pell's actions.

"I see this as callous, brazen offending," he said. "He did have in his mind some sense of impunity. How else did he think he was going to get away with this?"

The judge received a statement from one of Pell's victims, but the other will never get to have his say. He died of a heroin overdose in 2014, before Pell ever faced justice.

Whatever the sentence in Melbourne, action by the Vatican will not be swift. The Holy See has announced it will do nothing until Pell's exhausted his rights of appeal.

"This is painful news that, as we are well aware, has shocked many people, not only in Australia," Vatican spokesperson Alessandro Gisotti said.

"As already expressed on other occasions, we have the utmost respect for the Australian judicial authorities."

In the meantime, Pell will await his sentence in custody. The Cardinal's journey from priest to prisoner, church to cell, is now complete.


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