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Australian cardinal sentenced to 6 years in jail for sexual abuse

In this file photo taken on February 26, 2019, Cardinal George Pell leaves the County Court of Victoria after prosecutors decided not to proceed with a second trial on alleged historical child sexual offences in Melbourne. (Photo by AFP)

Cardinal George Pell, a former Vatican treasurer and an adviser to Pope Francis, was sentenced to six years in jail by an Australian court on Wednesday for sexually abusing two choir boys in the 1990s at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne.

Pell, 77, is the highest ranking Catholic priest worldwide to be convicted for child sex offenses.

"In my view, your conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance," County Court of Victoria Chief Judge Peter Kidd said in the sentencing, which took more than an hour.

“You had time to reflect on your behavior as you offended, yet you refused to desist,” he said, adding that "viewed overall, I consider your moral culpability across both episodes to be high."

Kidd set a non-parole period of three years and eight months. Pell will be registered as a sex offender for life, he said.

The sentence, which by law could be up to 50 years, was closely watched around the world.

The sentence, handed down in Melbourne, Australia, where Cardinal Pell first rose to prominence as an archbishop, followed two years of legal jockeying over evidence and accusations of sexual abuse, most of which were kept from public view by Australia’s legal system until recently.

Cardinal Pell’s conviction was unsealed only two weeks ago, when the court lifted a suppression order that had kept the guilty verdict a secret in Australia for months.

The cardinal, 77, says he is innocent, and his lawyers have said they will appeal the conviction. In a sign of his once-rarefied status, he can count among his supporters two former Australian prime ministers, including one, John Howard, who submitted a character reference as part of a push for a reduced sentence.

The Roman Catholic Church has been hit by numerous scandals in the past few years, involving allegations of covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests to protect pedophiles and the reputation of the Church.

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.

Approximately 6,900 US Roman Catholic priests were accused of sexual abuse with at least 16,900 young victims between 1950 and 2011, according to data from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

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