Please note that this story contains discussion of sexual violence against children.
Cardinal George Pell has been formally sentenced for multiple historical sexual offences against children.
In a meticulous ruling from County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd, Pell was sentenced to six years imprisonment with a non parole period of three years and six months, as well as being registered as a sex offender.
That bit is notable since it means he will never be able to leave Australia without being given approval from the authorities. Even getting back to Rome, assuming he’s even well enough to travel, will be challenging.
For those saying the sentence was too lenient; I totally respect your right to that view and can't imagine your pain. I would not pretend to. The most seasoned defence barristers, legal minds and police have been contacting me on background and all said they expected 2-5yrs max.
— Melissa Davey (@MelissaLDavey) March 13, 2019
The sentencing was broadcast live and kudos especially to Network 10 for ensuring that viewers were given information about Lifeline, 1800-RESPECT and other services, as well as warning about the graphic content which the sentencing would contain.
Given the 22 years which have elapsed between the offences and the sentencing, time which saw one of the victims die of an overdose, that sentence might appear lenient. Kidd CJ’s sentencing took Pell’s age and health into account, as well as the effect which incarceration would have on him.
Nonetheless, you’d not be the only person to point out that six years is a lot shorter than the lifetime pain his victims have suffered.
Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, President of the Blue Knot Foundation, issued a statement after the verdict which began: “Although this is a significant sentence, it is not as much as what we would’ve hoped. It’s profoundly disappointing for survivors whose own lives have been destroyed by the crime of child sexual abuse… We must remember that victims are sentenced for life. He was not.”
Statement from the man who was abused by Pell, read outside court by his lawyer: pic.twitter.com/6rCEVrboUk
— Lane Sainty (@lanesainty) March 13, 2019
So maybe some context is in order.
First up, let’s state the obvious: the judiciary can only enact the law as it exists. They can’t make up sentences for a bajillion years in defiance of legislation.
It’s also worth noting that the maximum sentence available for the most serious of Pell’s accusations, sexual penetration of a child aged between 10 and 16 years, was 10 years at the time of the offence (it has since been increased to 15).
It should be noted that Victoria has some of the nation’s shortest sentences for sexual offences (which has been a matter of controversy in the past).
When speaking today about Pell's crimes and conviction, remember the person you're speaking to may have been sexually abused as a child. It's far more common than we know, bc we can't measure stats.
People are rattled and people are hurting. Take care and check in with friends.
— Sally Rugg (@sallyrugg) March 12, 2019
For comparison, however, let’s see what you’d get in Victoria for other significant crimes.
Murder: life imprisonment
Rape: 25 years
Armed Robbery: 25 years
Drug Cultivation: 25 years
Aggravated burglary: 25 years
Sexual penetration of a child under ten: 20 years
Sexual penetration of a child under 16: 10 years; 15 if in “a position of supervision or authority” regarding the child
Manslaughter: 20 years
Causing Injury Intentionally: 20 years
Causing Injury Reckless: 15 years
Theft: 10 years
Possession of an unlicensed firearm: up to 7 years
Any of these feel a little off to you? Then the answer is to lobby lawmakers in state parliament, as the courts can only enforce the laws they’re given.
So for those having a hell of a rough day: feel all the feelings, reach out to those around you, and maybe consider what political action might be appropriate once you’re feeling stronger.
If this matter has raised concerns for you, you can call Lifeline on 131114.