Cardinal George Pell, once the Vatican's third-most powerful official, was sent to prison in Australia on Wednesday pending formal sentencing for sexually abusing a pair of 13-year-old choirboys in what the judge called "callous, brazen" acts.
Victorian state County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd revoked Pell’s bail at the end of a sentencing hearing in a packed, standing room-only courtroom. Kidd said he would deliver his sentence on March 13.
The judge said Pell was guilty of a breach of trust with an element of brutality and had had a sense of impunity. “I see this as callous, brazen offending – blatant,” Kidd said.
“At the time, he thought he was going to get away with it. Otherwise he wouldn’t have done it,” the judge said. “The Catholic Church is not on trial ... I’m imposing sentence on Cardinal Pell for what he did.”
Pell's lawyer, Robert Richter, described the abuse as a “temporary loss of judgment” in response to an “irresistible impulse.”
Pell, 77, who maintains his innocence and has appealed the verdict, faces up to 50 years in prison. He was convicted of abusing the boys in a cathedral in the 1990s when he was archbishop of Melbourne. The verdict was reached in December but only became public this week when the court lifted its gag order.
Pell, who was appointed treasurer by Pope Francis to address simmering financial scandals in the Vatican, was remanded to the Melbourne Assessment Prison pending the formal sentencing, Vatican News reports.
The announcement of the conviction came just days after Francis wrapped up the first-ever Vatican summit on sex abuse where more than 175 bishops from around the world discussed the clergy scandal and how better to respond to victims.
Alessandro Gisotti, acting director of the Holy See Press Office, called the verdict “painful news that, as we are well aware, has shocked many people, not only in Australia.”
He added that “Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence and has the right to defend himself until the last stage of appeal.”
Gisotti later tweeted confirmation that the prelate “is no longer” the Holy See’s economy chief, having not been reappointed when his five-year-term ended this month.
Francis confirmed that "precautionary measures" already imposed on Pell would remain, including a ban on carrying out priestly duties or having any contact with minors, Gisotti said.
The church's response in the Pell case is in striking contrast to its swift action against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was quickly expelled from the priesthood in 2018 for sexually abusing minors and adult seminarians over decades.
Five major players in the church have now been brought down by abuse scandals. Three of them, Pell, McCarrick and Pierre de Castelet, were convicted on sex abuse charges.
Cardinal Bernard Law, former archbishop of Boston, resigned his position in December 2002 following published reports that he had done little to punish abusers and protect children despite extensive knowledge of cases within his archdiocese.
Monsignor William Lynn was convicted of covering up a sex abuse scandal while working at the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Andre Fort, former bishop of Orleans, was given a suspended prison sentence for failing to report de Castelet's crimes.
Contributing: Lindsay Schnell; Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Church sex abuse scandal: Vatican opens investigation into Cardinal George Pell