12th March 2019 | Adam Cooper & Melissa Cunningham | The Age
People across the world will watch on Wednesday as George Pell is sentenced following his conviction for attacks on two choirboys in the 1990s, in all probability becoming the world's most senior Catholic official formally jailed for child sexual abuse.
Victoria's County Court has allowed a camera crew to film chief judge Peter Kidd deliver the sentence, from 10am, so it can be broadcast live on television, radio and news websites. The crew cannot film Pell nor anyone else in the room.
Pell was last year found guilty of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in St Patrick's Cathedral in East Melbourne after a Sunday mass in December 1996. He was also found guilty of sexually assaulting one of the boys, again in the cathedral after Sunday mass, early the following year. Pell was then Archbishop of Melbourne.
The 77-year-old cardinal has been in custody awaiting sentence since a February 27 hearing.
Each of the five charges – one of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four of committing an indecent act with or in the presence of a child – carries a maximum jail term of 10 years but the penalties on the five charges will mostly be served concurrently.
According to Sentencing Advisory Council statistics from 2011 to 2016, 53 per cent of people guilty of sexual penetration of a child under 16 in Victoria are jailed, while prison terms were imposed on 77 per cent of those guilty of committing an indecent act.
More than 60 per cent of those sent to prison for sexual penetration are jailed for between two and four years, while 80 per cent of those jailed for indecent act offences are sentenced to terms of less than two years.
Judge Kidd must weigh up the aggravating features of Pell's crimes with his personal circumstances.
The judge has previously said Pell's crimes were brazen and callous, a breach of trust and had a degree of brutality to them. Pell has never shown any remorse for the trauma he inflicted and a discount for pleading guilty doesn't apply as he fought the charges.
In mitigation, Judge Kidd will acknowledge the cardinal's age, declining health, lack of criminal priors and past good character.
The County Court's largest court room will be filled with abuse survivors and advocates, Pell's supporters and media. One of the boys Pell abused, now a man in his 30s, did not attend the cardinal's pre-sentence hearing. The other victim died in 2014 from an accidental heroin overdose. His father attended Pell's last hearing.
Early Tuesday evening, Maureen Hatcher began tying hundreds of colourful ribbons to the gates of St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in support of victims of child sexual abuse.
She had packed bags of the ribbons before she made the trek down from Ballarat.
Ms Hatcher is the founder of the Loud Fence movement, which began in Ballarat more than three years ago.
The movement has since spread worldwide, with members of the public tying ribbons to the fences of religious buildings as a show of support for survivors and victims.
As she tied ribbons on the eve of Pell's sentencing, Ms Hatcher was joined by a small group of people who had gathered outside the cathedral where the abuse occurred.
"Really for us, it's about all survivors of child sexual assault," Ms Hatcher said. "We are hoping to spread a message of hope for all survivors that they are believed and they are supported. We hope the sentence down tomorrow might also give a few more survivors the confidence to come forward or speak out."
Members of the public helped Ms Hatcher when they saw her tying ribbons.
"Once we told them what we were doing and what the ribbons meant they wanted to tie them too," she said.
"I think tomorrow will hopefully bring closure for a lot of people. It's not just about George Pell and his conviction. It's so important for people to be able to heal from this. We need to stop talking about Pell and what he did and start talking about the whole community in Ballarat and beyond and how we can heal from this going forward."
Pell maintains he is innocent and has appealed against his convictions. The Court of Appeal will hear his challenge on June 5 and has the power to quash convictions and order that the allegations go back for retrial. If that occurs, it would be up to prosecutors to decide whether to continue.
Pell was found guilty at retrial in December, after an earlier jury was discharged without reaching a verdict.
Even given the spate of religious figures jailed in recent years for child sex offences in Australia, Pell's sentence is enormously significant given his profile here and in the church. He previously held positions as the Vatican's treasurer and an adviser to Pope Francis.
Pell's lawyers will also attend the sentencing, including Robert Richter, QC, who sparked outrage at the last hearing in describing the offending as "a plain vanilla sexual penetration case".
Mr Richter later apologised for those remarks and has confirmed he won't be part of Pell's legal team for the appeal.
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