MELBOURNE, Australia -- The most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sex abuse will face his first night in prison today while he waits two weeks to learn his sentence for molesting two choirboys in a Melbourne cathedral two decades ago.
Victorian state County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd revoked Cardinal George Pell's bail at the end of a sentencing hearing. Kidd said he would deliver his sentence March 13.
The 77-year-old Pell, who could face five decades in prison, showed no expression as he walked from the dock with a cane, escorted by three court security officers and a prison guard.
A jury unanimously convicted Pell in December of abusing the two 13-year-olds in a rear room of St. Patrick's Cathedral in 1996, weeks after becoming archbishop of Australia's second-largest city. But Pell wasn't taken into custody immediately because he had surgery scheduled to have both knees replaced.
The judge said Pell was guilty of a breach of trust with an element of brutality and had had a sense of impunity. "I see this as callus, brazen offending -- blatant," Kidd said.
Pell had maintained his innocence throughout, describing the accusations as "vile and disgusting conduct." His lawyers have appealed the convictions and were scheduled to appear in the Court of Appeal to apply for bail. But the bail application was later withdrawn. No date has been set for an appeal hearing.
Sex offenders in Victoria state would normally be sent to prison after they are convicted and while awaiting sentencing.
On Tuesday, the Vatican insisted on Pell's right to further defend himself after the conviction, but it said Pope Francis was keeping in place local church restrictions forbidding one of his most trusted advisers from having contact with children while appeals run their course.
Acting Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti read a brief statement that called the news of Pell's conviction "painful." He later tweeted confirmation that Pell "is no longer" the Holy See's economy chief. Pell's five-year mandate was to expire this month, and Francis had not been expected to renew it.
Gisotti took no questions from reporters about the Australian court's verdict, which was appealed by Pell last week.
Because of a court order, news of the verdict couldn't be published until Tuesday.
"In order to ensure the course of justice, the Holy Father has confirmed the precautionary measures which had been imposed by the local Ordinary on Cardinal George Pell when he returned to Australia," Gisotti said.
The spokesman was referring to restrictions imposed by Australian church authorities after Pell went back to his homeland in 2017 to defend himself in the criminal case.
Gisotti noted that Pell maintains his innocence. But the spokesman added that while awaiting the "definitive assessment of the facts," Pell is "prohibited from exercising public ministry and from having any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors."
He added that "Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence and has the right to defend himself until the last stage of appeal."
Information for this article was contributed by Rod McGuirk of The Associated Press.
A Section on 02/27/2019