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Chief Judge Peter Kidd said the cleric's age, at 77 years old, and his "otherwise blameless life" accounted for the relatively short sentence of six years.

"I am conscious that the term of imprisonment which I am about to impose upon you carries with it a real, as distinct from theoretical, possibility that you may not live to be released from prison".

"Broadcasting the sentencing of George Pell demystifies the court process for the general public and also shows the work of our hard-working judges in action".

"In my view, it does not even approach low-end offending".

Kidd also addressed the relationship of trust between Pell and the victims, and the context of power imbalance.

Pell - once the Vatican's chief financial officer and an adviser to Pope Francis - is the highest-ranking Catholic Church official to be convicted of molesting children.

The Catholic intellectual George Weigel compared the Pell conviction to the ignominious Dreyfus case, where Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army captain, was convicted of treason in 19th-century France.

A crowd of around 150 people packed inside Melbourne's County Court 3.3 including victim support groups and Pell supporters with dozens more media and protesters with signs outside court.

"The offences you, Cardinal Pell, have committed, were each intentional offences", he said.

"It is hard for me to allow myself to feel the gravity of this moment", he said.

He was convicted of one charge of sexually penetrating a child and four of committing indecent acts with a child. The decision was made by Pope Francis given Pell's high standing, reported the Jesuit America Magazine. The Australian is the most senior Catholic to ever be convicted of such crimes.

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Judge Kidd addressed the current climate of anger with the Catholic Church at Pell's February hearing when he said, "The Catholic Church is not on trial and I'm not imposing a sentence on the Catholic Church".

He was actually convicted of five offences in December previous year, but details of the verdicts were kept secret for fear they would prejudice a second trial he was facing.

The verdict was withheld from the public until a legal suppression order was lifted last month.

One of the victims died in 2014 and the other who was cross-examined by the defense told the court Pell exposed his genitals to them, fondled their private parts and forced one boy to perform oral sex on him before he masturbated.

Richter sparked a furore when, in seeking a light sentence, he called the offense "a plain vanilla sexual penetration case", remarks for which he later apologized.

While Gallup said the current scandal is having a bigger impact among Catholics than in 2002, "it is unclear whether Catholics who are questioning their church membership will actually decide to leave the church".

"The situation is therefore a nightmare for the Catholic Church".

Pentin acknowledged speculation in the Eternal City that Pell was the victim of a conspiracy to oust him.

Until recently he ran the Vatican's finances and helped elect popes.

Pell's age and health were "significant" factors in his sentencing.

"There is this constant suspicion that the timing (of the charges) was not coincidental and there were some backroom dealings to get him out", he said.