The defense lawyer for the man who was once the third highest-ranking official in the Catholic Church—and who's now awaiting sentencing for attacks on two 13-year-old choirboys in Australia—is apologizing for referring to the crimes as "plain" and "vanilla." The assaults by George Pell, then archbishop of Melbourne, after a Sunday mass in 1996 lasted "less than six minutes" and there was "no ejaculation," Robert Richter said in Victoria County Court Wednesday, adding the victims were "naughty boys" for consuming church wine in advance, per News.com.au. "This is no more than a plain, vanilla sexual penetration case where a child is not volunteering," Richter added in a clear description of rape, per the Australian Associated Press. Judge Peter Kidd countered that Pell's crimes were brutal and callous. The chief commissioner of Victoria police also took issue with the wording.
So, too, did activist Manny Waks. "It has left me and many others shocked and upset," he wrote in a letter to Richter, who appeared not to recall the comment as he left court Wednesday. A statement expressing "sincerest apologies to all who were hurt or offended" came a day later after what Richter described as "a sleepless night reflecting upon the terrible choice of phrase." "It was in no way meant to belittle or minimize the suffering and hurt of victims," he continued, noting he'd already acknowledged the crimes "merited imprisonment." Pell, 77, faces up to 50 years on one count of sexually penetrating a child and four counts of an indecent act with a child at his March 13 sentencing. However, a criminal law expert tells the Guardian the "grounds of appealing on unreasonableness is solid" as only one victim served as witness, and the second denied the attack before his death. (Read more Cardinal George Pell stories.)