Top cardinal gets 6 years jail in Australia for 'appalling' choirboy abuse

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Pell will have to serve at least three years and eight months in jail before he is eligible for parole.

The judge also accepted that life in prison for Pell would be more onerous than for other prisoners and noted he would be registered for life as a sex offender.

Judge Peter Kidd described Pell's offending as a "brazen and forceful sexual attack on two victims".

Pell was found guilty of cornering the two boys, who were 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.

"In recent years there has been the exposure of child sexual abuse within institutional settings, including within the Catholic church", Kidd told Pell.

He has maintained his innocence and has filed an appeal that is scheduled to be heard in June.

His conviction has rocked the Catholic Church, where he had been one of the Pope's closest advisers.

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"Despite this, you still indecently acted against (the boy), and did so with what I consider to be a degree of physical aggression and venom", Judge Kidd said. He faced a maximum of 10 years in jail for each charge.

"I'm not a fair-weather friend", Abbott said.

Pell is the most senior member of the clergy to be convicted of historical child sex abuse.

"It is hard for me to allow myself to feel the gravity of this moment" the victim, who has not been identified, said though his lawer Vivian Waller.

"I conclude that your decision to offend was a reasoned, albeit perverted one", Kidd said.

At 77, Pell is entering the last phase of his life, Judge Kidd said, noting the impact of imprisonment.

"You were confident your victims would not complain".

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Pell, who appeared in court without a priest's collar for the first time during the case, showed no emotion during the sentencing hearing that ran for more than one hour.

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".

The most senior Catholic of all, Pope Francis, who faces calls to strip Pell of his Cardinal status, has said he would withhold comment until the appeal process was concluded.

Pell's fate within the church has yet to be decided.

Pell suffers from what Judge Kidd described as "significant enough" health issues, including hypertension, congestive heart failure - he has a pacemaker - and osteoarthritis in both knees.

"There is an added layer of degradation and humiliation that each of your victims must have felt in knowing that their abuse had been witnessed by the other", said Kidd.

Last night as Pell prepared to learn his fate, a projection of the words "crime scene" lit up the gates to St Patrick's Cathedral where the sexual abuse took place.

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In testimony to the commission in March 2016, Pell said that he did not know of the sexual abuse of children in Ballarat by another priest in the 1970s until his conviction in 1993, although the commission had heard testimony from others that the priest's behavior was an open secret in the diocese.