Abuse victims who confided in George Pell recall his shocking reaction

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In explaining his sentencing decision, the judge said Pell had led an "otherwise blameless life".

While the retreat was underway Wednesday outside Rome, Cardinal George Pell was sentenced in Australia to six years in prison for sexually abusing two youths in the 1990s.

Chief County Court judge Peter Kidd said in his sentencing that he accepted that prison time will be more onerous for George Pell because of his notoriety and the animosity directed towards him.

Pell was found guilty of cornering the two boys, who were aged 13 at the time and on scholarships to the prestigious St Kevin's College, in the sacristy after Sunday mass at St Patrick's Cathedral in December 1996, when he was archbishop of Melbourne.

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

Pell, who was until late-February the Vatican's treasurer, is the highest- ranking Catholic to be convicted of child sexual abuse.

Pell maintains his innocence and is appealing the verdict.

St Claire told a similar story about Pell when she confided in him about the shocking abuse she and her twin sister Sarah were subjected to during 14 years they spent in five orphanages run by the Catholic Church in the 1950 and '60s. "Everything is overshadowed by the forthcoming appeal".

He will spend a minimum of three years and eight months behind bars and will be eligible for parole in November 2022.

The second incident, though less serious in nature, was committed against a boy who had already been abused by Pell, he noted.

"You are not to be made a scapegoat", Kidd said.

A crowd of around 150 people packed inside Melbourne's County Court 3.3 including victim support groups and Pell supporters with dozens more media and protesters with signs outside court.

The second episode was "brief and spontaneous" but could not be viewed as an "isolated lapse" as Pell had ample time to reflect on his previous abuse of one of the boys, the judge said.

"In sentencing you today, I am not sentencing the Catholic Church ... it is George Pell to be sentenced".

The other boy, who never filed a complaint against Pell, had died in 2014 from a heroin overdose.

Judge Kidd rejected Pell's defence argument the crimes were committed by Pell, the man, not the archbishop.

Several of Pell's other high-profile friends in Australia have leaped to his defense, questioning the jury's verdict and predicting the cardinal would be exonerated on appeal.

With global attention on historic abuse within the Catholic church, Kidd however stressed that it was Pell rather than the Vatican that was on trial.

At a 2002 World Youth Day event in Toronto, Pell made headlines by saying "abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people" since abortion was "always a destruction of human life".

In an unusual step the sentencing is being broadcast.

"I appreciate that the court has acknowledged what was inflicted upon me as a child", he said.