Former Australian prime minister John Howard has submitted a character reference to the court for George Pell, who has been convicted of child sex offences.
Pell was found guilty in December of sexually abusing a 13-year-old choirboy and molesting another after Sunday mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in East Melbourne in 1996.
The news of Pell’s crimes sent shock waves across the globe on Tuesday and on Wednesday he faced a County Court pre-sentence hearing.
His lawyer Robert Richter QC submitted a binder of documents to the court in Pell’s defence, including 10 character references.
“These people love him; none of them believe he is capable of these offences,” Mr Richter said.
One of the testimonials is from Mr Howard, who became prime minister in 1996, the same year Pell committed his crimes.
“He relates to everyone from a prime minister to street beggars,” Mr Richter said of his client.
“He is a person of the highest character, putting aside the convictions that were recorded.”
Mr Richter said Pell had a great sense of humour and his offending was spur of the moment.
But Chief Judge Peter Kidd hit back, labelling Pell’s crimes callous and brazen.
“He engaged in some shocking conduct toward two boys,”
“And he did it in such brazen circumstances. He obviously felt some level of impunity.
Kidd continued: “At the moment, I see this as callous, brazen offending. Blatant.”
Mr Richter said he was in a difficult position as Pell’s lawyer, as his client maintained his innocence.
“The cardinal’s position is that he is innocent. I’m not in a position to say why he did something he says he didn’t do,” he said.
On Wednesday evening, Mr Howard spoke of his support for the Catholic Church during an event at the University of Technology, Sydney.
“As to changes within the Catholic Church, like any great institution, it has flaws.”
“I am not a member of the Catholic Church, although as a member of the Anglican Church, raised in the Methodist Church as I was, I feel a certain identity and beliefs naturally with another branch of the Christian church and I don’t run away from that.”
“I admire enormously a lot of the work, good work the Catholic Church does which is so often unacknowledged by its constant critics.”
Calls to strip Pell of his Order of Australia honours
Speaking to reporters in Tasmania, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his thoughts were with the victims of child sexual abuse in institutions.
“Last year I led the national apology to those victims and I know the events of yesterday, I know for a fact, that would have brought all of that back to people – their families, people they lost, and my thoughts are really with them I’ve got to say.”
“I’ve listened to their stories, I know their pain. And I know they would have felt it all again yesterday. And it would have been a really tough day for them and it would be tough for them again as these issues continue to be about.”
“Know that there are people around you who love you and care for you and want the best for you. And the words that I said in that apology, I say them again to you today. You are not alone and we know it happened and we are there with you. “
There have calls to strip George Pell of his Order of Australia after he was found guilty of sexually abusing two choir boys.
The Prime Minister said he will wait for the legal process to be completed before considering to make an application to the Council of the Order of Australia to revoke Pell’s appointment.
A devastating result for friends of Cardinal Pell
Cardinal Pell was made a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2005 for his service to the Catholic Church.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has revealed in a radio interview, he phoned George Pell on Tuesday, the day the cardinal was found guilty of child abuse.
Speaking on 2GB on Wednesday afternoon, Mr Abbott said: “I absolutely accept that this is a shocking result, a devastating result for the friends of Cardinal Pell and… I am one.”
“Devastating for all who believe in the Catholic Church and I’m also one of those.”
“This is a grim time, no doubt about that.”
“I also have faith in our system of justice. Let’s see what the system of justice ultimately produces.”
“Yes he has been convicted he has been found guilty and as the prime minster said yesterday no one is above the law and that’s right no one should be above the law but let’s wait and see what the law ultimately produces.”
In an interview with the ABC’s Lateline program in 2004, Mr Abbott called Cardinal Pell “a fine man” and “one of the greatest churchmen that Australia has seen.”
When asked if he accepts that George Pell has been deemed a pedophile and a guilty man, Mr Abbott replied: “It certainly does not sound consist with the man I have known but as I said this is something will now go on appeal and then we will be able to come to what is a settled conclusion about the matter.”