Melbourne, Australia (CNN) Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Vatican official to be convicted of sex abuse to date, has been sentenced to six years in prison for the “callous” assault of two choirboys in the late 1990s.
A former senior adviser to Pope Francis, Pell showed no reaction when Chief Judge Peter Kidd handed down his sentence in a hearing broadcast live worldwide on Wednesday from Victoria’s County Court in central Melbourne.
Pell, 77, was found guilty of one count of sexual penetration of a child and four counts of committing an indecent act with a child last December after a secret five-week trial.
Reporting of the trial and verdict was suppressed by the court to avoid prejudicing a second trial, which crown prosecutors abandoned in February after the judge ruled some prosecution evidence couldn’t be submitted.
On Wednesday, Judge Kidd said Pell’s attack on the victims was “breathtakingly arrogant” adding that the cardinal had assaulted the boys with “callous indifference to the victims’ distress.”
But the judge said Pell was “not to be made a scapegoat for any failings or perceived failings of the Catholic Church.”
Outside the court, survivors of Catholic sex abuse who had attended the hearing were divided on the sentence. Some felt justice had been done, while others thought the judge had been too lenient.
“Part of what went on today was just rot, absolutely rubbish,” said a survivor known by the alias Michael Advocate, who watched the sentence on a live feed outside court, his head in his heads.
“It’s just insulting to the victims and it’s insulting to all the other survivors like myself,” Advocate told CNN. “There’s a disconnect between the sentence that is regularly handed out to the pedophile and the lifelong damage that is done to the victim.”
In a statement after the sentencing, the surviving victim said it was hard for him “to take comfort in this outcome.”
“There is no rest for me,” he said through his lawyer, Vivian Waller. “I’m doing my best to hold myself and my family together.”
Until last month Pell held the role of Vatican treasurer, considered by many to be the third most senior position within the Roman Catholic church.
Pell’s legal team has previously announced it will appeal his conviction on three grounds, including that the jury’s verdict on all five charges was unreasonable, based on the evidence submitted. The Court of Appeal is due to hear submissions in early June.
Pell has spent the past two weeks in custody and was brought into the court from the Melbourne Assessment Prison (MAP) via an internal entrance, avoiding rows of cameras set up outside the court in central Melbourne.
More than 150 people crammed into the courtroom, which had been fitted with extra seats to cope with the demand from those who wanted to be there in person to hear how he’d be punished.
Pell sat in the back of the courtroom, wearing a black shirt without his clerical collar. He was uncuffed, but surrounded by security officers.
The cardinal stared straight ahead as Judge Kidd delivered a detailed explanation of the crimes he had committed and the reasons for his sentence.
After mass one Sunday in the late 1990s, Judge Kidd recounted, Pell caught two choirboys drinking communion wine in the priest’s sacristy and one by one forced them to engage in sex acts, despite their sobs and pleas for him to let them go.
The first choirboy told how he was forced to perform oral sex on the cardinal, who at the time was Archbishop of Melbourne and a revered figure within the Catholic Church.
The boy didn’t tell anyone what had happened for years, before finally approaching Victoria Police in 2015, almost 20 years after the crime. His statement led to an investigation and a number of historical sex abuse charges being filed against the then-Vatican treasurer.
After his conviction, the Vatican launched its own investigation into Pell, which could lead to the cardinal losing his clerical status or being “defrocked,” a severe punishment imposed by the Pope and not subject to appeal.Cardinal George Pell arrives at Melbourne County Court on February 27, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia.
In his ruling, Judge Kidd was careful not to name the two victims, one of whom gave taped evidence against Pell on a video that was seen only by the jury during the trial. Under Australian law it’s illegal to identify sex abuse victims or reveal information that could expose who they are.
The first victim has previously asked in a statement that he be left alone and given time to cope with the ongoing criminal process. “The process has been stressful and is not over yet,” he said.
The second victim died of a heroin overdose a few years ago. The deceased victim’s father said he was “disappointed” with the length of the sentence.
“(Pell) can rot in hell, and rot in prison. I just wished that it was longer, that’s all I can say,” he told CNN.
The choirboy’s father had previously told CNN that his son had been an outgoing child who played sport and liked singing, a talent that earned him a scholarship to the prestigious boys’ school and ultimately an invitation to sing in St. Patrick’s Cathedral where the attack took place.
Around one year after the assault, he said his son was kicked out of the choir, lost his scholarship and started injecting heroin.
“He was trying to mask something that had happened to him. He was trying to cover up something that had happened to him, so heinous and so horrible,” said his father, who is considering filing a civil case against the church.Protesters gathered with signs outside the court during Pell’s pre-sentencing hearing in February, 2019.
Pell’s defense team had submitted 10 references that attested to Pell’s good character. They included one from former Prime Minister John Howard who wrote that Pell, his friend for approximately 30 years, was a person of “high intelligence and exemplary character.”
Howard said he was aware of Pell’s conviction and pending appeal but that “none of these matters alter my opinion of the Cardinal.”
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.
The depiction of Pell as a man wronged has infuriated survivors of church sex abuse who say that casting victims as liars and priests as beyond reproach perpetuates a culture that allowed abuse to thrive within the Catholic Church for decades.
Statistics released in 2017 by Australia’s Royal Commission into Responses to Institutional Child Sex Abuse stated that 7% of all Catholic priests in the country had abused children over the past six decades.
Judge Kidd addressed the current climate of anger with the Catholic Church at Pell’s February hearing when he said, “The Catholic Church is not on trial and I’m not imposing a sentence on the Catholic Church. I’m imposing a sentence on Cardinal Pell for what he did.”
As Judge Kidd handed down his sentence Wednesday, no sounds could be heard in the court.
The judge sent him to jail with the words: “Can Cardinal Pell be taken away please?”
Patriots Owner Robert Kraft To Reject Plea Deal In Florida Prostitution Case
(CNN) — Robert Kraft will not accept a plea deal offered by Florida prosecutors in the case against the New England Patriots owner and other men accused of soliciting prostitution at a Jupiter, Florida, day spa, a source familiar with the case told CNN on Wednesday.
Prosecutors have offered to drop misdemeanor charges against Kraft and 24 other men in exchange for fines, community service and an admission they would be found guilty should the case go to trial, according to Mike Edmonson, spokesman for the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office.
Police said Kraft twice visited the Orchids of Asia Day Spa. Video footage showed him receiving “paid acts” in a room at the spa and surveillance video shows him being driven to the spa, police Chief Daniel Kerr said last month.
The deal offered by prosecutors also stipulates that Kraft must undergo a screening for STDs.
Prosecutors Offer Plea Deal For Robert Kraft’s Prostitution Charge
(CNBC) — Prosecutors in Florida have offered Robert Kraft, the owner of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, a deal to drop charges of soliciting prostitution in exchange for an admission that Kraft knowingly solicited prostitution at a day spa in Florida.
Mike Edmondson, a spokesman for the Palm Beach County State’s Attorney’s Office, told CNBC that Kraft and two dozen other men who are accused of paying money for sexual services, were offered the deal Monday.
Kraft, 77, will have until his next court appearance on March 28 to decide whether to accept the deferred prosecution offer or to move the case toward trial. The offer to him was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
The newspaper said that under the deal, Kraft would have to be screened for sexually transmitted diseases, complete an education course about prostitution and do 100 hours of community service.
Edmondson told CNBC that the deal being offered Kraft and the other men is standard in cases where a person who has not previously been convicted of a prior crime is charged with a misdemeanor.
If Kraft and the other defendants satisfy the terms of the deal, the cases against them would be dismissed. If any of the men fail to abide by the terms after accepting the deal, prosecutors would reopen the case against them.
Kraft’s lawyer, William Burck, and the Palm Beach County State’s Attorney’s Office, which is prosecuting the case, did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.
Ian Goldstein, a Florida attorney who is representing three other defendants being prosecuted on similar charges, said, “I have no comment about the ongoing plea negotiations.”
Kraft and the other men were charged in February in a police sting as part of a human trafficking probe focusing on massage parlors in Florida. Kraft was hit with two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution, and has pleaded not guilty. The businessman was not accused of human trafficking.
Authorities said Kraft had visited a spa in Jupiter, Florida, on Jan. 19 and 20 in two different Bentleys, and received sexual services in exchange for money. Both visits were captured by cameras police had hidden in the Orchids of Asia Day Spa.
Kraft’s second visit came hours before he watched his Patriots defeat the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game in Kansas City.
A spokesman for Kraft had said after his arrest, “We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity. Because it is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further.”
Inside Sundance/HBO’s Horrifying Michael Jackson Documentary
TRIGGER WARNING FOR EXPLICIT GRAPHIC DESCRIPTIONS OF SEXUAL ACTS WITH A MINOR
This article originally appeared in The Daily Beast. What follows is the unedited, original article.
Two accusers come forward with graphic accounts of alleged child sex abuse by the King of Pop in a disturbing but essential new 4-hour documentary that premiered at Sundance.
Famed choreographer Wade Robson learned how to dance from watching Michael Jackson videos. His entire career is owed to Jackson’s mentorship. The King of Pop was the largest creative force and inspiration in his life. And, as Robson says in the new documentary Leaving Neverland: “He also sexually abused me. For seven years.”
Robson, who first caught the public eye at age 5 when Jackson invited him to dance on stage during the Bad tour, and later became a teen-phenom choreographer for Britney Spears and NSYNC, had revealed Jackson’s abuse, which started when he was 7 years old, before. He controversially came forward with the allegations in 2013, four years after Jackson had died and almost a decade after testifying in court that Jackson had never abused him. Robson’s testimony helped exonerate Jackson.
But in Leaving Neverland, Robson delivers a meticulous and graphic account of being sexually abused by Jackson. He describes the psychological damage inflicted by Jackson that forced Robson to keep the secret, reveals the lasting effects of the abuse into adulthood, and explains why he is coming forward now. Robson’s account is disturbingly mirrored by that of James Safechuck, a former child actor who starred in one of Jackson’s Pepsi commercials and says he suffered the same years-long pattern of sexual abuse after the singer befriended and, by their accounts, bewitched his family.
The four-hour, two-part documentary premiered Friday morning at the Sundance Film Festival, preceded by a warning about the graphic descriptions of sexual acts against a minor that would follow. (We’ll offer the same warning here.)
Robson and Safechuck recount incidents of masturbation, kissing, oral sex, being forced to caress Jackson’s nipples, bending over for him while he pleasured himself, and being coaxed into painful anal sex.”
They confess how Jackson brainwashed them into keeping it a secret and had carefully laid plans in place to keep them from getting caught. Both of their families are interviewed, painting a picture of how Jackson’s celebrity and child-like nature seduced them into a place of trust, chronicling through the present day the collective pain the families suffered when the truth was revealed.
The Sundance screening began nearly 30 minutes late due to intense security measures brought on by threats from protesters angry that Robson and Safechuck, whose stories have been inconsistent over the years, were given the documentary’s platform to “tarnish” Jackson’s legacy. A major police presence lined the Park City street outside the building and at one point a bomb-sniffing dog entered the theater during the screening, though only a handful of protesters could be spotted outside. Online, fans heralding Jackson’s innocence have flooded social media to discredit the documentary.
(Worth noting: Leaving Neverland premiered at Sundance three years after a Spike Lee-directed documentary on the pop star, produced by the Jackson estate, that glossed over the molestation accusations almost entirely. “The legacy has been hijacked,” Lee told The Daily Beast at the time.)
Director Dan Reed made the conscious decision to limit the documentary solely to the accounts of Robson, Safechuck, and their families rather than re-litigate the two civil cases brought against Jackson or—explaining the criticism, perhaps—hear from anyone from the Jackson camp or staff who could either corroborate or refute their accounts. It’s “a film about two families whose paths crossed with the greatest entertainer ever produced,” he told the audience before the screening.
Both Robson and Safechuck tearfully took the stage to a standing ovation after the credits rolled. “I want to speak the truth as loud as I had to speak the lie for so long,” Robson says at the end of the documentary.
“Michael would like it if you would bend over…”
In 1986, James Safechuck got his big break when he was cast in a 1986 Pepsi commercial starring Michael Jackson. After filming was done, Jackson invited him to hang out in his trailer, which his mother, Stephanie, allowed after being assured by the singer’s hairstylist that “he’s like a little 9-year-old boy.”
Later, Jackson invited the entire Safechuck family to dinner at his house, wowing them with a screening of a yet-to-be-released film in his home movie theater and gifting Safechuck his “Thriller” jacket and wad of cash as he was leaving. Jackson would eventually befriend Safechuck’s parents, with Stephanie saying she thought of the legend as her own son. He would stay the night at their house, and she would even wash his clothes.
The summer after school ended, Jackson invited the Safechucks on tour with him. Safechuck, who was 10 years old at the time, called it “like two friends going on an adventure.” It was after weeks of pleading that Stephanie says she finally allowed her son to sleep in a bed alone with Jackson, something that seemed natural after watching the two interact like childhood friends despite their two-decade age difference. It was then, in a Paris hotel room, that the alleged abuse started.
Safechuck says that Jackson introduced him to masturbation that first night, having him doing it so often that the boy’s penis swelled and Jackson would have to dip it in warm water so that he could pee. Safechuck says it felt like a “bond” between them.
“Michael would like it if you would bend over and spread your cheeks,” he says. “Then he would masturbate.” He says that Jackson liked to have his nipples rubbed. Over time, a routine developed that would start with French kissing, include the masturbation, and eventually evolve to oral sex. Safechuck says that Jackson performed oral sex on him the first time while he was sleeping. He also allegedly told him that it was his very first sexual experience, something that only made Safechuck feel more special.
Jackson would allegedly run drills training Safechuck to get dressed as quickly and as quietly as possible, in case anyone interrupted him. He told him that if anybody found out, both of their lives would be ruined.
When Jackson bought and remodeled Neverland Ranch, he told Safechuck that the sprawling property was for him. Safechuck recounts all the places they would engage in sexual acts: in the bedroom closet, so that there were more barriers; in an attic; in toy teepees outside; in a movie theater. “It sounds sick, but it’s kind of like when you’re first dating somebody,” Safechuck recalls. “You do a lot of it”
“In a little 7-year-old’s mouth…”
Wade Robson spent his childhood in Brisbane, Australia, idolizing Michael Jackson. He got to meet the entertainer at age 5 after winning a dance-a-like contest and appeared on stage with him. During a family trip to Los Angeles two years later, Jackson invited the Robson family to Neverland for the weekend. He then invited Robson, who was 7, and his sister Chantal, who was 10, to spend the night in his room with him. Their parents agreed.
When the Robsons left for five days to sightsee at the Grand Canyon, they agreed to let Wade stay behind with Jackson. That first night alone together, Robson alleges that Jackson began fondling him over his pajamas, and then under. There was “nothing aggressive about it,” Robson says. “I wasn’t scared.”
Jackson then, Robson says, guided the boy to do the same to his erect penis. “You and I were brought together by God,” Robson says Jackson told him. “This is how we show our love.”
Throughout the week, Robson says they would shower together, French kiss, and he would squeeze Jackson’s nipples. Jackson, he says, performed oral sex on him and then convinced him to do the same. “In a little 7-year-old’s mouth…” Robson says, shaking his head. He alleges that Jackson would have him kneel on all fours on the bed and expose his anus while he masturbated, sometimes sticking his tongue in it.
He says he went through the same gaslighting about how no one would believe him if he talked about the sexual acts, with Jackson allegedly telling him they would both be jailed if it came out. “I liked the feeling that I was making him happy, that I was pleasing him,” Robson says.
Getting older—and jealous
Safechuck confesses at one point that he and Jackson had a mock wedding ceremony, even showing the camera the alleged diamond-encrusted ring they used that he still owns. The singer would reward him with jewelry for sexual acts, he says.
As he got older and approached his teenage years, he says the sex got dirtier, as Jackson introduced alcohol. One time, Safechuck says Jackson put his finger in his anus, even though he asked him not to.
Robson says that Jackson was the first person to ever show him pornography as he got older. Several years later, when Robson was 14, Jackson brought him back to his hotel. At this point, Robson was roughly the same size as Jackson. During this encounter, Robson alleges that Jackson attempted to penetrate him anally, though the act was too painful for Robson and did not last long.
The next day, Robson claims that Jackson told him to find and get rid of his bloody underwear. It would be their last sexual experience together.
Both Safechuck and Robson admit that, as they got older and Jackson would befriend new boys, they became jealous. Macaulay Culkin and Brett Barnes are given as examples of “replacements.”
Both Culkin and Barnes deny ever being sexually abused by Jackson.
Safechuck and Robson both testified in Jackson’s defense when 13-year-old Jordan Chandler accused Jackson of sexual abuse. The case was settled out of court, and both Safechuck and Robson’s parents, after having given Jackson so much trust, assumed it was a cash grab on the part of Chandler’s parents.
When another trial was brought against Jackson in 2003, Safechuck refused to testify on his behalf. Robson, however, did take the stand, asserting that Jackson never abused him. His testimony is credited with convincing the jury that Jackson was innocent. In 2013, Robson revealed publicly that he had lied on the stand.
“This was a long time coming…”
What’s notable about Leaving Neverland is its scope. It doesn’t distill Safechuck and Robson’s cases to the most salacious sex allegations. It spends time with their respective families to understand how semi-watchful parents could be so ignorant of what was going on, and why the two boys would bury the truth about their relationship with the entertainer for so long.
“The film follows the effects of their alleged abuse through those milestones and, once they told their families what actually happened, the difficult paths to understanding and forgiveness.”
More, it indicts so many people: the Safechuck and Robson families, the people in Jackson’s camp, Jackson’s fans, the media, and all of us. This was happening in plain sight. The amount of footage of Jackson walking hand-in-hand with a carousel of young boys through the years is shocking. He was exonerated for it twice. In many fans’ eyes, for a lifetime.
When Safechuck took the stage after the Sundance premiere, he was overwhelmed, saying, “This was a long time coming.” He had been inspired to come out with his story after seeing Robson’s interview on the Today show and hoped to connect with him, but legally the two were kept apart until the Friday screening.
During the post-screening Q&A, another child sex abuse survivor stood up and shared his story. Asked what to say to fans who find it hard to believe their stories and angry at a project that could sully Jackson’s legacy, Robson said, “I don’t feel like there’s anything I need to say to them except I understand that it’s hard for them to believe.” After all, he spent decades unable to believe that what happened to him at the hand of his hero and friend was “bad.”
“We can only accept and understand something when we’re ready,” he said. “Maybe we’ll never be ready. Maybe we will. That’s their journey.”
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