Former Vatican treasurer Pell jailed for six years for sexually abusing choir boys

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to six years in jail on Wednesday by an Australian court for sexually abusing two choir boys in Melbourne in the 1990s, and will be registered as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

County Court of Victoria Chief Judge Peter Kidd said there was a real possibility that at age 77, Pell could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Pell, a former top adviser to Pope Francis, is the most senior Catholic to be convicted for child sex offenses.

His downfall brings to the heart of the papal administration a scandal over clerical abuse that has ravaged the Church’s credibility in the United States, Chile, Australia and elsewhere over the last three decades.

“In my view, your conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance,” said Kidd in handing down the sentence after Pell was convicted of five charges of sexually abusing two children.

“Viewed overall, I consider your moral culpability across both episodes to be high,” he told the packed court room.

Pell, who showed no emotion during the sentencing hearing that ran for more than one hour, has maintained his innocence and has filed an appeal that is scheduled to be heard in June.

The offenses against two 13-year-old boys took place after Sunday mass in late 1996 and early 1997 in a room and a corridor at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, where Pell was archbishop.

One of the victims died in 2014. The other victim, who testified and was cross-examined at the trial, issued a statement through his solicitor saying he found it hard to take comfort in the verdict for now.

“Being a witness in a criminal case has not been easy. I am doing my best to hold myself and my family together,” said the victim, who cannot be identified under Australian law protecting sex abuse victims.

During the trial the victim described how Pell had exposed himself to them, fondled their genitals and masturbated and forced one boy to perform an oral sex act on him.

Pell was found guilty by a jury on four charges of indecent acts and one of sexual penetration. He faced a maximum of 10 years in jail for each charge.

“Cardinal Pell, I find beyond reasonable doubt that, on the specific facts of your case, there was a clear relationship of trust with the victims, and you breached that trust and abused your position to facilitate this offending,” Kidd said.

Kidd said as archbishop Pell would have “cast a powerful shadow” and thought he could control the situation if caught. He also probably believed his victims would not complain.

During his trial, Pell’s own lawyer described the burly 1.9 meters (6 foot and 3 inches) tall cardinal as the “Darth Vader” of the Catholic Church.

Kidd said that as Pell had maintained his innocence, which was his right, he had not shown remorse or contrition for his actions and that his sentence reflected that.

CATHOLIC CHURCH NOT ON TRIAL

After the sentence was handed down, Pell signed paperwork related to his registration as a sex offender, bowed to the judge and then, aided by a walking stick, was escorted out of the court by five corrections officers.

Pope Francis, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, ended a conference on sexual abuse in February by calling for an “all-out battle” against a crime that should be “erased from the face of the earth”.

Kidd made it clear that Pell’s sentence was based solely on the crimes he was convicted of by the jury, and that Pell was not to be made a scapegoat for the failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church.

“In my view, the first episode in the priest’s sacristy involved a brazen and forceful sexual attack on the two victims,” Kidd said.

“The acts were sexually graphic. Both victims were visibly and audibly distressed during this offending,” he said, adding Pell’s behavior had a “nasty element” to it.

He set a non-parole period of three years and eight months. Pell would be registered as a sex offender for life.

“I am conscious that the term of imprisonment…carries with it a real, as distinct from theoretical, possibility that you may not live to be released from prison,” the judge said.

Pell’s sentencing was shown live on television, reflecting the high level of interest in the case, although only the judge was shown and the broadcast was cut immediately after the sentence was delivered.

“It’s not enough. Thank God he got a sentence; it should have been at least 10 (years),” said 82-year-old Marge Crawford, who was outside the court as part of Care Leavers Australasia Network, a support group for adults who suffered abuse and neglect in foster care and orphanages.

Pell was convicted in December, but the verdict was suppressed from being made public in Australia by a court order until Feb. 26, when further child sex offense charges against Pell dating back to the 1970s were dropped.

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Pell has been close adviser to Pope Francis in recent years.

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Many people travelled to the court to hear the sentence.

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“Just the Tip of the Iceberg”

New Ben Garrison Cartoon, “Just the Tip of the Iceberg”

A sinister cartoon for a sinister story.

The Church has covered up decades of child molestation by priests across the state of Pennsylvania.

For far too long the Church has ignored or hidden a problem of epidemic proportions under their pulpits. Priest who weren’t arrested and jailed were merely shuffled off to different parishes, where they continued their vile ways of abuse.

Instead of telling someone they’re not a Christian if they have a gun in their house, it’s time for the Pope to clean his own house. He has the power to allow priests to marry and have families. It’s not only normal, but also Biblical.

EXCLUSIVE: Catholic Church spent $2M on major N.Y. lobbying firms to block child-sex law reform!

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ALBANY — Not leaving it to divine chance, the state Catholic Conference has turned in recent years to some of Albany’s most well-connected and influential lobby firms to help block a bill that would make it easier for child sex abuse victims to seek justice.

The Catholic Conference, headed by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, has used Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker, Patricia Lynch & Associates, Hank Sheinkopf, and Mark Behan Communications to lobby against the Child Victims Act as well as for or against other measures.

All told, the conference spent more than $2.1 million on lobbying from 2007 through the end of 2015, state records show. That does not include the conference’s own internal lobbying team.

Filings show the lobbyists were retained, in part, to work on issues associated with “statute of limitations” and “timelines for commencing certain civil actions related to sex offenses.” Other issues included parochial school funding and investment tax credits.

“They are willing to spend limitless money in order to basically keep bad guys from being accountable for their actions,” said Melanie Blow, chief operations officer of the Stop Abuse Campaign. “I think they’re doing it because they don’t want to have to pay out settlements.”

Added Kathryn Robb, an advocate and survivor who says she was abused by her brother as a 9-year-old: “If they need to spend that much money on lobbying, clearly, then, they have some pretty big secrets to hide.”

While a far cry from the millions in lobbying top special interests spend in Albany each year, advocates for child sex abuse survivors say the $2.1 million spent likely represents a worthwhile investment to the Catholic Conference if it can continue to block legislation that would eliminate the statute of limitations on child sex abuse civil cases and open a one-year window to bring lawsuits for victims who can no longer sue under current law.

The Catholic Conference has argued that opening a one-year window to revive old cases could ultimately bankrupt the Church.

The firms the Catholic Conference chose is also telling.

Wilson Elser has long been Albany’s biggest lobbying firm. The firm represented the Catholic Conference from at least 2007 through the end of 2015 and was paid more than $1 million during that time, according to online filings with the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

After several key people either left the firm or reduced their responsibilities, the Church did not renew the contract with Wilson Elser for 2016, sources said.

Wilson Elser, which was being paid $10,000 a month by the Catholic Conference, had no comment.

In its place, state records show, the Catholic Conference hired another prominent firm, Greenberg Traurig, which it is paying $6,000-a-month. The lobbyist from the firm representing the Church is Michael Murphy, who used to be an assistant counsel for the Senate Republicans.

The Senate GOP opposes the one-year “lookback” window that Democrats are calling for.

The Catholic Church, some Orthodox Jewish groups, and other private entities oppose legislation by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) and Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan) that would eliminate the time limit that prohibits adults who were victimized as children from bringing civil cases after their 23rd birthdays.

Another top firm, Patricia Lynch & Associates, whose namesake had close ties to now disgraced Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, was hired by the Catholic Conference in 2009. Lynch’s firm for many years was ranked in the top 3 of well-paid lobbyists.

Lynch’s hiring by the Catholic Conference came after the Assembly passed different versions of the Child Victims Act four times from 2006 to 2008. The measure never came up again for a vote after Lynch was hired.

ISVEKI2I64F4PEPZ62W7X62HQQKathryn Robb, who was abused as a child, said the Catholic Conference is hiding something if it has to spend big money on lobby firms. (Jefferson Siegel/New York Daily News)

“Once Ms. Lynch lobbied for the Catholic Conference, Mr. Silver’s support for our bill ended, and the bill did not come out of the Assembly’s Codes Committee … which as speaker, he controlled,” John Aretakis, a former lawyer and an advocate for victims of clergy sex abuse, wrote in a scathing letter recently to a judge handling Silver’s recent criminal sentencing.

State lobbying records show the firm’s contract with the Catholic Conference was terminated earlier this year, not long after Lynch was outed in court papers as having had an affair with Silver.

Silver was sentenced earlier this month to 12 years in prison after his conviction on federal corruption charges.

Lynch, whose firm was being paid $7,500-a-month, would only say her contract with the Catholic Conference was ended by “mutual consent.”

Sheinkopf, meanwhile, has had close ties with Gov. Cuomo, the former leadership of the Senate Democrats when they were in control of the chamber, and even the Senate Republicans.

Like the others who were hired by the Catholic Conference, he would not discuss the specifics about what he does for the $5,000-a-month he is being paid.

“They like me,” he said. “They think I’m smart.”

In an email, Catholic Conference spokesman Dennis Poust wouldn’t comment directly on his organization’s lobbying efforts. He also would not comment on the reasoning behind why specific lobbying firms were chosen.

“The Catholic Conference lobbies on many issues, from assisted suicide to farm worker rights to school choice to criminal justice reform,” Poust said.

He said the conference’s lobbying activity is in full compliance with the law and is reported, as required, to the state Joint Commission on Public Ethics.

“As such it is all a matter of public record,” Poust said. “We have no further comment beyond that.”

Exorcists in training as Vatican tackles rising cases of the ‘demon and possession’

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‘Satan arrives wherever there are human beings’: a special conference will be held in April to help bishops who train priests to become exorcists (file photo) CREDIT: PACIFIC PRESS / BARCROFT IMAGES

The Vatican is holding a training course for exorcists from around the world to help the Roman Catholic Church cope with the growing numbers of people who claim to be possessed, Church officials say.

A conference held in April at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum in Rome will focus on anthropological, social, theological, liturgical, pastoral, and medical aspects of “exorcism and the prayer of liberation.”

It is aimed especially at providing support for bishops who train priests to become exorcists.

Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Vatican Prefect for the Congregation of the causes of saints, will open proceedings with a lecture on fighting Satan.

The number of Italians approaching exorcists has tripled recently to half a million people, according to Vatican News.

Father Cesare Truqui, a priest who learned to cast out demons from Italy’s most famous exorcist, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, told the Vatican Insider that “in the popular mind, the exorcist is a sort of good wizard who deals with the devil.”

He acknowledged that many who turn to exorcists in reality have “problems of the family, of losing work, even girls with problems of the heart” while others suffer from “spiritual deviation.”

“Even among Catholics there is a lot of superstition,” he said. “I have been asked for help by a girl who requested a long-distance exorcism of her ex-boyfriend who left her. In such cases one tries to give human understanding.”

True possession by demons is not common, he says, cautioning nevertheless that “the devil is always lying in ambush.”

“Nowhere is immune, not even the Vatican. Satan arrives wherever there are human beings.”

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Jesus was frequently asked to cast demons out of people CREDIT: THE ART ARCHIVE/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK

Brother Benigno Palilla, a Sicilian exorcist, also blames superstition for the surge.

“The number of people ready to make use of wizards, sorcerers, people reading cards and the tarot has increased,” he told Vatican News. “That leads to the demon and to possession.”

Last month Brother Palilla organized a grassroots training course for Sicilian exorcists who learned about Satanist sects and heard “stories of liberation” from the exorcised.

“A self-taught exorcist certainly will make mistakes. He needs a period of apprenticeship,” he said.

“The possessed are the existential backwater of which Pope Francis talks. They are people who suffer a lot and, unfortunately, are not inserted in the Church registry office,” Brother Palilla said.

Fr. Truqui says the course in Rome next month is timely because the struggle against the Devil has reached “a crucial stage of history.”

“Many Christians no longer believe in the existence of the malign one, few exorcists are appointed. There are no longer young priests willing to learn the doctrine and the practice of the liberation of souls.”

Critics warn that exorcisms can be a form of “spiritual abuse” and counsel extreme caution using them.

The Church of England says medical professionals must be consulted where appropriate.

Anne Richards, the Church of England’s national adviser on such issues told the Guardian: “Exorcism in a technical sense is incredibly rare. I don’t think I’ve ever come across a case that’s been authorised.”

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Did Pope Francis question the existence of hell?

Fox News contributor Father Jonathan Morris clarifies a report that Pope Francis questioned the existence of hell and explains why it is called Good Friday.

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