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Convicted Australian cardinal to be sentenced live on TV after contentious gag order

This photo shows Cardinal George Pell arriving at the County Court in Melbourne, Australia on February 26, 2019. (Photo by AP)

An Australian court says the sentencing of disgraced Catholic Cardinal George Pell for child sex offences will be broadcast live in line with “the principles of open justice” following a controversial gag order on his trial process.

“The County Court (of Victoria) is committed to the principles of open justice. Chief Judge Peter Kidd’s sentencing remarks in this matter will be broadcast live” on Wednesday, a spokesman for the Melbourne court said in a statement on Monday.

The 77 year-old Australian — the third-most senior Catholic Church official in the world until recently — was convicted last December of four charges of indecently dealing with two 13-year-old boys and one charge of sexual assault on one of them. The ruling was not announced until February 26 due to a months-long judiciary gag order.

The controversial order had prevented media from reporting on Pell’s case since June 2018.

Under the suppression order, Victoria State Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Kerri Judd sent letters to journalists and media organizations, threatening them with offence charges if they breached the order.

The gag order, however, sparked criticisms over the judiciary’s attempts to censor the abuse scandal, which has rocked the Vatican. It was lifted in February when a second trial against the cardinal was dropped.

The Melbourne court said on Tuesday it would allow Australia’s national broadcaster ABC to live stream Chief Judge Peter Kidd reading out Pell’s sentence.

However, no one else, not even the convicted cardinal, will be filmed.

The cardinal has so far pleaded not guilty and seeks to appeal his conviction. He has been in custody since February 27 and faces a maximum jail sentence of 10 years for each charge.

Last week, Pell was sued for yet another child sexual crime.

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The cardinal has lost his positions as a close advisor to Pope Francis and the Vatican’s treasurer due to the scandal. Pell will, however, remain a cardinal at least until his appeal is heard, according to the Vatican.

Although many Catholic clerics have faced sex abuse allegations in recent years, Pell is by far the highest-ranking church official ever to have been found guilty of such crimes.

Pope Francis himself came under fire last year for not responding decisively to the Church’s sex abuse crisis after it was revealed that children, mostly boys, were being abused by clergymen in their congregations across the world.

He summoned key bishops from around the world to a summit held earlier at the Vatican to discuss the issue and find a solution to protect children from sexual abuse in the Church.

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