High-profile barrister Robert Richter has apologised for his “terrible choice of phrase” in describing George Pell’s sexual abuse of 13-year-old choirboys as “vanilla sexual penetration”.
The Queen’s Counsel has been blasted for the remark, which came during a plea hearing for the cardinal who is now behind bars awaiting sentence for orally raping the boy, and molesting him and another 13-year-old after a Sunday mass in 1996.
Mr Richter was attempting to note there were no aggravating features to Pell’s offending, at a time when he was newly installed as Archbishop of Melbourne at St Patrick’s Cathedral.
“This is no more than a plain, vanilla sexual penetration case where a child is not volunteering or actively participating,” he said.
He issued an apology late on Thursday afternoon, after a “sleepless night reflecting”.
“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,” he wrote in a statement.
“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.
“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.”
County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd was immediately unimpressed by Mr Richter’s remark.
“It must be clear by now I am struggling with that,” Judge Kidd replied.
He described the five charges that a jury convicted Pell of in December as brutal and callous.
The statement drew widespread condemnation, including from Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton, who said officers “certainly don’t treat them as plain vanilla offences”.
“It’s probably a question you’d have to ask a victim of any sexual offending, not specifically talking about this case, but more generally whether they find that term offensive and I’m pretty sure I know what answer you’d get,” Mr Ashton told 3AW radio on Thursday.
Judge Kidd will sentence Pell on March 13.
Each of the charges carries a 10-year maximum sentence.