Cardinal George Pell’s lawyer made the unsuccessful and outrageous argument that one of Pell’s offenses was “plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating.”
Lawyer Robert Richter made the claim while pushing for a lower sentence in a Melbourne court on Wednesday morning, asserting that the 77-year-old former Vatican treasurer had “no aggravating circumstances” and was likely “seized by some irresistible impulse.”
The sexual penetration of any minor is an aggravating circumstance and the irresistible impulse is criminal.
Each of the five offences of which Pell was found guilty carries a maximum 10 years imprisonment, and the judge outlined they were serious charges.
“This offending warrants immediate imprisonment,” prosecutor Mark Gibson told a packed courtroom, which was crowded to overflowing with journalists, lawyers and members of the public. “It involved two vulnerable boys.”
Two victim impact statements were tendered in the hearing; one from the victim who testified in Pell’s trial and one from the father of the other victim who died in 2014, but they were not made public.
While his defense lawyer pushed for a lighter sentence by downplaying the severity of the offenses—suggesting that one assault was only “fleeting” and claiming the victims would have showed signs at home if they were “truly distressed”—the judge pushed back on what he described as “callous, brazen offending” and “shocking conduct” by Pell.
Pell’s defense team wound up unexpectedly withdrawing a bail application, meaning the disgraced clergyman could spend up to two weeks in jail before his sentencing next month. It was not immediately clear why the application was withdrawn.
Pell’s lawyer made an egregious mistake in downplaying the abuse offenses and the judge was not buying the argument, nor should he have.
Pell’s day in court coincided with a Vatican announcement that they would launch a canonical investigation. “After the guilty verdict in the first instance concerning Cardinal Pell, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will now handle the case following the procedure and within the time established by canonical norm,” Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican press office, said Feb. 27.
The canonical investigation of Pell announced by the Vatican is not the first church investigation of allegations against him; in June 2002, Pell stepped aside as archbishop of Sydney while an independent church review board investigated a claim that he sexually abused a 12-year-old boy at a youth camp in 1961 while a seminarian. The board found insufficient evidence to corroborate the accusations.
When a deacon, priest or bishop is accused of abuse, the first phase of the investigation generally is carried out by the diocese where the abuse is alleged to have occurred. For instance, in the case of Theodore McCarrick, the former cardinal dismissed from the clerical state Feb. 16, the initial investigation was carried out by the Archdiocese of New York, and once the allegations were determined to be credible, the case was handed over to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Historically, this has been the problem with the sexual abuse of minors. It’s downplayed and trivialized, especially by the Catholic Church. Former priest and convicted pedophile Paul Shanley was active in the North American Man Boy Love Association.
The abuse of minors will never stop until adults start taking this seriously. In many states, penetration of a minor is a capital offense in the criminal system and under no circumstances should that be taken lightly.
Admitted to practice law in all federal multidistrict litigation courts, the California State Bar and the Florida Bar. His philosophy is to provide aggressive, quality representations and seek fair compensation for individuals and their families who have suffered injury, death, or sexual abuse.