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Judge’s words ring out on the street, but no comment from church on George Pell’s sentence

Michael Advocate, who goes by that pseudonym as an abuse survivor, sat with his head in his hands as he listened before getting up and walking away when he heard the final punishment: six years with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.

He said that Pell’s jail term was far too light for the suffering inflicted on his victims.

“Give some thought to the poor victims that will go through life in the most damaged and traumatic way, it’s like trying to get through life with a broken leg that never fixes,” he said.

“You’ve got two young innocent boys that have had their lives totally destroyed, they’ve both received lifetime sentences. So this creepo freako gets less than two years actual jail time for each victim that he destroyed. Where’s the justice in that?”

Michael Advocate (left) listens to the sentencing outside of court.

Michael Advocate (left) listens to the sentencing outside of court. Credit:Jason South

Members of the Care Leavers Australasia Network were once again a visible presence outside court in their blue and yellow uniforms, holding signs and chanting about justice for victims of sexual abuse. One held a painting of Pell that read “Prisoner 666”.

Leonie Sheedy, head of CLAN, said the sentence had left many with mixed feelings.

While it was a momentous day which showed that anyone could be held accountable for crimes against children, she said the focus on how Pell’s poor health would make it hard for him in prison was an insult.

“I’m surprised his ‘good character’ carried so much weight in the sentencing, the Royal Commission said that should never be used in evidence,” she said.

Members of the Care Leavers Australasia Network outside the County Court.

Members of the Care Leavers Australasia Network outside the County Court.Credit:AAP

“I think the best thing today was witnessing him having to sign the sex offenders register, that will stay with us forever.”

Ms Sheedy said she only hoped Wednesday’s sentence would help show other victims of child sex abuse that no matter a person’s standing in the community, anyone could be brought to justice for their atrocities.

“Regardless of your position, education, status or religious beliefs you are accountable in a court of law in this country,” she said.

They huddled around mobile phones outside the court as the sentence was broadcast live.

They huddled around mobile phones outside the court as the sentence was broadcast live.Credit:Jason South

Phil Nagle, an abuse survivor from Pell’s hometown of Ballarat, was driving home from Mount Gambier and listened to the sentencing on the radio.

He didn’t think Judge Kidd should have taken the Cardinal’s age into account when handing down his sentence.

However, Mr Nagle said he was happy that Pell would serve time in jail, unlike when his perpetrator Christian brother Stephen Frances Farrell first faced court in 1997 and was given a suspended sentence.

“The expectation from the public is that we’re not going to put up with these guys getting light sentences or not getting jail,” he said.

“It’s moving in the right direction, but slowly. He’s committed the crime and he’s got to do the time.”

Mr Nagle said it would be a bittersweet day for Pell’s surviving victim and the family of his other victim who died of an accidental heroin overdose in 2014.

“This is their day in court, we need to recognise that,” he said.

“I’m so proud of them for having the guts to stand up. They need to be able to take on board the accolades for coming forward.”

In recent days survivors, their families and others have decorated the railings outside St Patrick’s Cathedral with ribbons.

The cathedral gates were covered in coloured ribbons by Wednesday morning.

But there was no comment from the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne. Spokesman Shane Healy said the archdiocese did not have anything to say on the sentencing.

The cardinal’s supporters continue to believe the jailed sex offender is innocent.

Peter Westmore, who has attended many of Pell’s court appearances, still holds out hope the cardinal will be released on appeal.

“I think the sentence was a lottery,” he said.

“There have been many other people over the last 2000 years that have served longer terms of imprisonment. He knows he came into the world with nothing and he knows he will leave with nothing.”

Mr Westmore said it was “utter rubbish” to say, as Judge Kidd did, that Pell had shown “staggering arrogance in committing his crimes.

“That’s not the George Pell that I know,” he said.

Another supporter, Karen Baxter, compared the case with the wrongful conviction of Lindy Chamberlain.

“I think things are going to come out later,” she said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged Australians to support survivors of child sexual abuse.

“I would just ask Australians today to get around those who have been victims of child sexual abuse,” Mr Morrison told reporters ahead of the verdict.

“Let them know we know it happened, that we want to help you be stronger and to survive what is the most abominable you could think that could happen to an individual with a breach of trust.”

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said his thoughts were with everyone for whom this case re-awakens old trauma and “all those Australians still mourning someone stolen by the pain of child abuse”.

If you or anyone you know needs support, you can contact the National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), Lifeline 131 114, or beyondblue 1300 224 636, or the Victims of Crime Helpline 1800 819 817.

Tom Cowie is a journalist at The Age covering general news.

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