George Pell’s lawyer has apologised for using a “terrible choice of phrase” in court on Wednesday, when he described the cardinal’s abuse of two teenage choirboys as a “plain vanilla sexual penetration case”.
Robert Richter was slammed for his choice of words, which came during a plea hearing for Pell, who has been convicted of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys during the 1990s.
Speaking in court on Wednesday, the lawyer claimed it was “no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating … no aggravating circumstances”.
Following widespread backlash from sexual abuse victims and members of the general public, Richter was forced to apologise for his choice of words.
Richter says: Pell's offending was "No more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not actively participating..no aggravating circumstances." Kidd "It must be clear to you by now I’m struggling with that submission. Looking at your points here; so what?"
— Melissa Davey (@MelissaLDavey) February 27, 2019
On Thursday night he released a statement claiming he never meant to “belittle” or offend victims of sex abuse and had spent a “sleepless night reflecting upon the terrible choice of phrase”.
“I offer my sincerest apologies to all who were hurt or offended by it. No offence was intended,” he wrote in a statement shared on Twitter by ABC reporter Emma Younger.
“In seeking to mitigate sentence I used a wholly inappropriate phrase for which I apologise profusely to all who interpreted it in a way it was never intended: it was in no way meant to belittle or minimise the suffering and hurt of victims of sex abuse and in retrospect I can see why it caused great offence to many.”
He added: “I hope my apology is accepted as sincerely as it is meant and I will never repeat such carelessness in my choice of words which might offend.”
On Tuesday it was revealed that Pell had been convicted of five counts of child sex abuse against two 13-year-old choirboys during his time as Archbishop of Melbourne.
The news made headlines around the country following the lifting of a gag order that revealed the 77-year-old had been convicted of the charges on December 11, 2018, at Melbourne’s county court, following a unanimous verdict by the jury. The Australian media had been unable to report on the trial as the judge had placed a suppression order on the case.
Pell was found guilty of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16, which his lawyer reportedly likened to “oral rape”, and four charges of an indecent act with a child under the age of 16. Pell’s victims were two 13-year-old choirboys, who were abused by the then Archbishop of Melbourne in December 1996 and February 1997 in the city’s St Patrick Cathedral.
On Friday, video footage was released of Pell’s police interview in Rome. The recording was made in 2016 when the cardinal denounced allegations made against him. The footage was obtained by 7 News and is the first time the interview has been made public.
“I didn’t know any kids in the choir in 96,” he said in the interview after looking at photos of his alleged victims.
In one confronting part of the footage, police detail Pell’s alleged crimes to the cardinal.
“You’ve removed your robes to one side and exposed your penis,” police could be heard telling Pell.
“Oh, stop it,” a frustrated Pell said in response. “What a load of absolute and disgraceful rubbish. Completely false. Madness.”