Pell awaits sentence in solitary confinement

Pell awaits sentence in solitary confinement

Cardinal Pell speaks with journalists after being charged with sexual abuse June 29, 2017. Massimiliano Valenti/CNA

By JD Flynn, Catholic News Agency

March 5, 2019

Melbourne, Australia

Cardinal George Pell is incarcerated at the Melbourne Assessment Prison while he awaits the results of a sentencing hearing held last week. Pell was convicted last year of child sexual abuse.

The cardinal, 77, could be sentenced to as many as 50 years in prison, for five counts of sexual abuse stemming from charges that he sexually assaulted two choirboys while serving as Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.

According to The Australian, Pell is remanded to solitary confinement, kept in isolation 23 hours each day, because, due to his age, high profile, and the nature of his crime, he has been designated an “at-risk” prisoner by corrections officials in the Australian state of Victoria.

Melbourne Assessment Prison is designated a maximum security facility, and is designed for prisoners awaiting sentencing, and as a point of entry for men into Victoria’s prison system. Inmates are assessed and classified before being sent to other facilities. The prison’s capacity is 256 prisoners.

Pell, if sentenced to a prison term, is expected to be assigned to one of four minimum security prisons in Victoria. Due to Pell’s high profile and the nature of his crime, he will most likely be assigned to a unit designed to house prisoners subject to protective custody plans.

Last week Vatican spokesperson Alessandro Gisotti told journalists that Pell is prohibited from exercising public ministry. The cardinal is not, however, prohibited by the Church from celebrating Holy Mass privately.

Prison officials in Victoria declined to speak about Pell directly, but they did tell CNA that no prisoner, including an incarcerated priest, is permitted to possess wine, which would be needed to celebrate Mass privately, adding that “a prisoner cannot lead religious services in a Victorian prison.”

A public affairs officer for the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons told CNA the same thing: that a federally incarcerated priest in the U.S., even one not prohibited by the Vatican from celebrating Mass privately, “is not authorized to administer Catholic Mass or other other Catholic services in prison.”

Pell is also expected to soon face a canonical penal proceeding at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

His criminal sentence will be announced March 13. During the sentencing hearing, Judge Peter Kidd described the crime as “brazen, callous offending.”

“He engaged in some shocking conduct against two boys, and he had the capacity to reason and did it in such brazen circumstances that he obviously felt some degree of impunity,” Kidd said.

The cardinal has maintained his innocence, and reportedly plans to appeal his conviction.