Robert Richter QC has apologised for his “terrible choice” of words after describing the abuse for which Cardinal Pell was convicted as “vanilla sexual penetration”.
The lawyer made the extraordinary statement during a plea hearing on Tuesday, causing widespread offence and appearing to concede that Pell was guilty.
Richter said he was attempting to explain that there were no aggravating feature’s to the offences, which the cardinal maintains did not happen.
“This is no more than a plain, vanilla sexual penetration case where a child is not volunteering or actively participating,” he said during the hearing.
Richter issued an apology on Thursday after a “sleepless night reflecting” on the “wholly inappropriate” terminology.
“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,” Richter said.
“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.”
Abuse survivor Manny Waks wrote to Richter after his initial comments, describing his language as “deeply offensive to so many on several levels.”
Richter responded: “I accept that the media chose to report it because it sells but it was never intended for them. In retrospect, I regret using a term well understood by lawyers and judges which is open to misinterpretation by those who do not understand the process of plea making after a conviction when the accused still maintains innocence; I was after all conceding that the conduct required imprisonment rather than arguing for a non-custodial sentence.
“I was trying to put it within a range which would avoid the kind of excessive number of years for which the crowd is calling.”
Pell is currently being held in custody, awaiting sentencing on March 13.
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