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Ex-Vatican Official, Cardinal Pell, Sentenced To 6 Years In Prison


How much prison time is enough for the most senior Catholic cleric ever charged with sexual abuse? An Australian judge gave his answer. He sentenced Cardinal George Pell to six years for the sexual abuse of two boys in 1996. Judge Peter Kidd acknowledged the possibility that Pell may not live to be released from prison because he is 77 years old. That outcome is still not satisfying for one of the victims, who issued a statement read here by lawyer Vivian Waller.


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.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli is based in Rome and is covering this story. Hi, Sylvia.


INSKEEP: So I just said the sexual abuse of two boys in 1996 - I feel like that brief phrase - it almost glosses it over, doesn't quite do justice here. What are some of the details of what really happened?

POGGIOLI: Well, they're rather, you know, heavy details. He was accused of basically exposing his genitals and so forth to these two young boys in the sacristy of Melbourne Cathedral, where Pell was archbishop in 1996. We just learned two weeks ago that he had been convicted in December of five charges, and today we heard the sentencing. And the judge, Peter Kidd, said a non-parole period of three years and eight months. He described Pell's conduct as staggering arrogance and said he hadn't shown remorse.

Now, Pell faced a maximum of 10 years for each charge, and this sentence was seen as very light. It disappointed a lot of the lawyers of the victims, but the judge said that Pell had otherwise had a blameless life and doesn't pose a risk of re-offending. But he did have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

INSKEEP: Help me understand otherwise blameless life. Had there been no other accusations besides the two particular ones that were brought to trial here?

POGGIOLI: Not at all. There have been several others. In fact, there was going to be another trial. That's why there had been a gag order for so long on the first trial. But the judge dropped that trial. And now one of the victims in this case, who has died since, his family is planning to do a civil lawsuit against Pell. So definitely - and there have been other charges.

INSKEEP: So otherwise blameless life - maybe not an accurate statement.

POGGIOLI: I would say so, yeah.

INSKEEP: OK. Nevertheless, there is this conviction. There is this sentencing. How significant is it that a senior official of the Catholic Church would be called to account in this way before a civil court?

POGGIOLI: It's huge, and it's only one of several blows for the Vatican. A week ago, the French Cardinal Philippe Barbarin offered to resign after he was given a six-month suspended sentence for failing to report allegations of abuse of minors by a priest. We see now civil authorities in many countries are opening up sex abuse investigations against local churches. So after three decades of these scandals across the world and while the Vatican sort of delays introducing accountability rules, the Catholic Church is really coming face-to-face with civil justice. I think we see the - we're seeing the end of a centuries-old practice in which governments had a hands-off noninterference policy toward the Catholic Church. These officials can no longer expect this kind of treatment. Like all citizens, they're going to be held accountable by civil justice systems now.

INSKEEP: Sylvia, thanks.

POGGIOLI: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR's Sylvia Poggioli on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sylvia Poggioli
Sylvia Poggioli is senior European correspondent for NPR's International Desk covering political, economic, and cultural news in Italy, the Vatican, Western Europe, and the Balkans. Poggioli's on-air reporting and analysis have encompassed the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the turbulent civil war in the former Yugoslavia, and how immigration has transformed European societies.