In Brief

Cardinal Pell lawyer says child abuse was ‘vanilla’

Defence attorney Robert Richter’s remarks draw gasps from Melbourne courtroom

The lawyer representing disgraced Vatican cardinal George Pell has sparked fury by describing the sexual assault of a 13-year-old boy as “plain, vanilla sexual penetration”.

The former Archbishop of Sydney was convicted in December of sexually assaulting two choirboys while serving as Archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s, becoming the most senior Catholic clergyman to be found guilty of child sex abuse.

At a pre-sentencing hearing in Melbourne, Pell’s lawyer, Robert Richter presented an “astonishing” plea for leniency for his 77-year-old client, News.com.au reports.

“Abuse survivors and advocates present in the court gasped” as Richter told presiding judge Peter Kidd that one of the sex acts perpetrated on the teenage victim was “no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating”, The Guardian reports.

Kidd seemed taken aback by the comments, saying he was “struggling with that submission”.

Richter’s work on controversial cases has made him a well-known legal figure in Australia, “loved by his clients but loathed by members of the public for defending those deemed by some to be indefensible”, says News.com.au.

Outside the courtroom, Chrissie Foster, whose daughters were sexually assaulted by a priest, told CNN that Richter’s description of the attack was “outrageous” and “insulting” to victims.

During the lengthy hearing, Richter also argued that the assault had lasted “less than six minutes”, adding that there was “no ejaculation” and “no use of any implement”, and cast doubt on the idea that the teenage victims were “truly distressed”.

At one point, Kidd took Richter to task for suggesting that another assault had been “fleeting” and not worthy of a separate prison sentence.

“Nothing is to be gained here by comparing different forms of sexual abuse of children,” the judge said. “Of course I need to make a judgment of the overall gravity of this. But there is a limit to these kinds of comparisons.”

Kidd described Pell’s “callous” and “brazen” assaults on the boys as a “serious example of this kind of offending”.

At the close of the hearing, Pell was remanded into custody to spend his first night behind bars.

He will return to court on 13 March to be sentenced for the five counts of sexual abuse, each of which carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison.

His defence team says it has lodged an appeal against his conviction.

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