John Howard gives George Pell a character reference after his conviction for child sex offences – and the disgraced cardinal’s lawyer says the former PM ‘loves him’
Former Australian prime minister John Howard has provided a character reference to a court for Cardinal George Pell, who has been convicted of child sex offences.
Pell was found guilty in December of orally raping 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 positive 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.
Mr Richter said Pell had a great sense of humour and was a man of the ‘highest character’.
‘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.’
Another one of the references came from Greg Craven, the vice-chancellor of Australian Catholic University.
In further submissions, Mr Richter said Pell’s offending was spur of the moment.
‘This is no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where a child is not volunteering or actively participating,’ he said.
But Chief Judge Peter Kidd hit back, labelling Pell’s crimes callous and brazen.
‘He engaged in some shocking conduct toward two boys,’ the judge said.
‘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.
Pell could be taken into custody as early as at the conclusion of Wednesday’s hearing, ahead of his sentencing.