George Pell's lawyer Robert Richter says his comments were 'terrible' and 'inappropriate'

Former prime minister John Howard submitted a character reference for George Pell. Source AAPMore

Former prime minister John Howard submitted a character reference for George Pell. Source AAPMore

Cardinal George Pell has been convicted of sexually abusing two 13-year-old boys in 1996.

Melbourne Law School's criminal appeals and procedure expert, Professor Jeremy Gans, said Pell's appeal could be successful on the basis of unreasonableness.

"Whether it was a good idea is really a matter for them to answer, not for me to answer".

In seeking leniency, Richter said the assaults were "on the low end of offending", and said they amounted to "no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where a child is not volunteering or actively participating".

But the Victorian County Court yesterday received a glowing endorsement of Pell's character from Mr Howard.

It comes as Mr Richter apologised for describing Pell's sexual abuse of choirboys as "vanilla sexual penetration" during a plea deal for the cardinal.

"After spending a sleepless night reflecting upon the bad choice of a phrase I used in court during the course of a long and stressful process, I offer my sincerest apologies to all who were hurt or offended by it", he said in a statement released on Thursday.

He said Mr Richter was trying to explain that the abuse Pell was found guilty of didn't include aspects of some of the worst cases of sexual abuse, including grooming and explicit threats of violence.

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Mr Richter said he was in a hard position as Pell's lawyer, as his client maintained his innocence.

"You've got to put that offending on a scale of where it compares to other offending".

It's not expected to occur until after an appeal, which Pell's legal team will pursue along with a bail application after the sentence. "I'm not in a position to say why he did something he says he didn't do", he said.

George Pell and John Howard have known each other for 30 years.

The 45-minute video was played to the court during Pell's two trials a year ago, as he unsuccessfully fought charges relating to the sexual abuse of two choirboys in the '70s. The reference, written with full knowledge of Pell's conviction, labels the former Vatican official "a person of both high intelligence and exemplary character".

"It made no reference at all to what had occurred, and it also suggested that his view of George Pell had not been changed", Mr Albanese said on the Today program. "It may make victims even more unlikely to come forward because they feel they won't be believed".

Hadley said Mr Howard went way too far.

Pell, who denies the charges and is appealing the conviction, faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for each of the two crimes. Prosecutors have flagged Pell is facing "significant" jail time and he will be registered as a serious sex offender.

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