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Lawyer for priest who sexually abused boys is very sorry he called it “plain-vanilla sexual penetration”

Australian Cardinal George Pell is facing a 50-year prison term for the charges, which date back to 1996.

by Carter Sherman
Feb 28 2019, 3:50pm

A lawyer who described Australian Cardinal George Pell’s sexual molestation of a child as “plain-vanilla sexual penetration” is now apologizing for his “wholly inappropriate phrase.”

Pell, who was once the third most powerful man in the Vatican and Australia’s top Catholic, was sent to prison Wednesday after being convicted of charges related to sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys. He’s facing a 50-year prison term for the charges, which date back to 1996, when Pell was archbishop of Melbourne.

One of his lawyers, Robert Richter, tried to argue that there were no aggravating factors in the abuse. “This is no more than a plain-vanilla sexual penetration case where a child is not volunteering or actively participating,” he told the court, according to the Guardian.

But after “a sleepless night reflecting,” Richter apologized publicly. “It was in no way meant to belittle or minimize the suffering and hurt of victims of sex abuse, and in retrospect I can see why it caused great offense to many,” he said in a statement.

“I hope my apology is accepted as sincerely as it is meant, and I will never repeat such carelessness in my choice of words which might offend.”

Pell was first convicted of abusing the boys in December, but a gag order on the Australian press kept his conviction from becoming public knowledge until Tuesday. Judge Peter Kidd plans to sentence Pell on March 13, and he made it clear to the court that he took the case very seriously.

“He did it,” Kidd said, according to the New York Times. “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.”

Pell, a former top aide to Pope Francis, is the most senior cleric in the Catholic Church to be convicted of sexual abuse, according to Reuters. He has maintained that he 's innocent and says he plans to appeal the sentence.

In the meantime, he remains a priest and a member of the College of Cardinals, a Vatican inner circle of officials who lead dioceses around the world.

Cover image: Robert Richter QC, lawyer for George Pell, is followed by media when leaving Melbourne County Court on February 27, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)