MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic clergyman worldwide to be convicted for child sex offences, on Wednesday returned to court for a sentence plea hearing.
Pell – a former top adviser to Pope Francis – was in December found guilty of five charges of child sexual offences committed more than two decades ago against 13-year-old boys.
Pell denies the allegations and lawyers have lodged an appeal, which if successful could lead to a retrial. The verdict was made public on Tuesday after prosecutors dropped a second abuse case against Pell.
Each of the five offences carries a maximum 10 years in jail.
Escorted by police through a gauntlet of people heckling and hurling abuse, Pell arrived at the Melbourne court shortly before his scheduled appearance where the judge is expected to hear arguments around a suitable prison sentence.
Pell, who has been out on bail throughout his trial, could be remanded in custody until his sentence is decided.
The Catholic church is under mounting pressure to deal with a growing child sexual abuse crisis, following scandals in the United States, Chile, Germany and Australia.
The pope ended a conference on sexual abuse on Sunday, calling for an “all out battle” against a crime that should be “erased from the face of the earth”.
Reporting by Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Writing by Colin Packham in Sydney; Editing by Howard Goller and Sam Holmes