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MELBOURNE: Disgr­aced Australian Cardinal George Pell was on Wednesday sentenced to six years in prison for the “brazen” sexual abuse of two choirboys, in what the judge lambasted as a “grave” abuse of power.

The former Vatican number three — who managed church finances and helped elect two popes — was sentenced in a Melbourne court on five counts, including oral rape and molestation of boys in 1996-1997.

Judge Peter Kidd, his remarks broadcast live on television, said the 77-year-old was guilty of “appalling offending” and “breathtakingly arrogant” attacks that took advantage of his position of authority over the boys, then aged 13.

Judge Kidd said the cardinal, with his “significant history of cardiac problems”, would be eligible for parole in late 2022, but acknowledged he “may not live to be released from prison”.

Wearing a black shirt without his usual white clerical collar, Pell sat largely impassively, hands interlaced on his lap, as Kidd graphically described his “brazen and forceful sexual attack on the two victims”.

The cardinal, a household name in Australia with friends that include prime ministers and business magnates, maintains his innocence and will appeal.

The prospect of further legal proceedings and the relatively short sentence tempered victims’ response to the news. “There is no rest for me,” the victim named only as “J” said in a statement, read by his lawyer Vivian Waller. “I appreciate that the court has acknowledged what was inflicted upon me as a child,” he said. “Everything is overshadowed by the forthcoming appeal.” The father of the other victim, who died of a drug overdose in 2014, said through his lawyer that the length of Pell’s sentence was “disappointing”.

Pell was found guilty of cornering the two boys, who were on scholarships to the prestigious St Kevin’s College.

The attack took place in the sacristy after Sunday mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in December 1996, when he was archbishop of Melbourne.

The boys had “nicked off” from the rest of the choral procession and were taking swigs of sacramental wine before the cardinal found them, opened his robe, exposed his penis and sexually assaulted them.

The judge added that the attack, and another two months later in 1997, when he forced one of the boys up against the wall of a corridor and grabbed his genitals, had a “profound impact” on the lives of his victims.

Pell is the most senior member of the clergy to be convicted of historical child sex abuse and his future inside the Church is now far from clear.

Published in Dawn, March 14th, 2019