Disgraced cardinal George Pell will spend his first night behind bars on five child sex offences after a bombshell day in court in Australia in which his bail was formally revoked.

Magistrate chief Judge Peter Kidd told the court he had previously granted Pell bail out of "humanity" because he required knee surgery. Pell will remain behind bars for two weeks until his sentencing on March 13.

The 77-year-old Pell, who could face 50 years in prison, was taken from the court to the Melbourne Assessment Prison, a maximum security facility where inmates new to the state penal system are assessed.

At a pre-sentence hearing in Melbourne's Victorian County Court this morning, Pell's defence lawyer Robert Richter QC described the matter as "no more than plain, vanilla, sexual acts with a child who is not consenting".

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Richter tried to persuade the judge that Pell's sex attack on two children was at the lower end of offending because it "lasted less than six minutes".

He said Australia's most senior Catholic was "not a repeat wrongdoer" despite his child sex convictions.

"It lasted less than six minutes," he said about the rape of one choirboy and molestation of another in Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral in 1996.

"There are no physical injuries. There is no ejaculation. There is no recording of the offences for later. No prior history. No breach of trust in the traditional sense. No pre planning. No use of any implement."

Judge Kidd wasn't having any of it and delivered a scathing response.

"So what!?" he responded.

Judge Kidd said he did not consider the offending anywhere near the "low end" before putting Richter on notice.

"People make reasoned choices," he told the court.

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"That's what he did and he did it for over five minutes. He exploited two vulnerable boys. There was an element of brutality to this assault. It was an attack."

When the court adjourned for lunch, Richter was swamped by an angry mob of protesters outside, who followed him on his way to chambers and shouted: "dirty money" and "paedophile protector".

Judge Kidd condemns the abuse. The assault on Richter is an "assault on the court", he said.

Cardinal George Pell's lawyer Robert Richter leaves the County Court as protesters hold placards in Melbourne. Photo / AP
Cardinal George Pell's lawyer Robert Richter leaves the County Court as protesters hold placards in Melbourne. Photo / AP

"I view that as raising a really serious example of contempt … and I would want to see that person prosecuted."

"This is not a game — the system requires defence counsel to defend people."

Judge Kidd earlier said that Pell "thought he was going to get away with" the rape of one child and sexual assault of another.

"In his mind (he) possessed impunity," the judge said.

Pell, 77, will be taken into custody at the conclusion of today's hearing after his legal team withdrew a bail application set down for this afternoon.

His lawyers are pushing for a retrial and his legal team has applied for leave to appeal his child sex convictions with the Court of Appeal.

Judge Kidd said he would aim to "deter others" in his sentencing and that Pell was "very unlikely to reoffend".

Prosecutors read through details of Pell's offending. Crown Prosecutor Mark Gibson said that what happened inside St Patrick's Cathedral in 1996 constituted a "breach of trust" and "serious offending".

"Given the age and status (of the victims), it puts them in a position of being vulnerable," Gibson said.

"These acts were in our submission humiliating and degrading towards each boy and gave rise to the stress in each boy.

"[There was] a degree of callous indifference by the cardinal."

Ten character references have been tendered in court for Pell, with one from Australian Catholic University Vice-Chancellor Greg Graven and another from former prime minister John Howard.

Cardinal George Pell arrives at the County Court in Melbourne today. Photo / AP
Cardinal George Pell arrives at the County Court in Melbourne today. Photo / AP

Richter said the character references speak of his client's kindness and generosity "above and beyond that of a priest" and of "a man who has a great sense of humour" who relates "to everyone from prime ministers to street cleaners".

Pell sat emotionless in the dock flanked by three uniformed officers as the court also heard there would be two victim impact statements tendered.

Judge Kidd told the court he would accept the statement from the father of one of the victims.

"A parent, when a child is the victim of a crime, then the impact, distress that would cause is self evident and almost inevitable," he said.

"My view would be that a parent could stand as a victim in those circumstances."

'YOU'RE THE DEVIL'

Pell this morning arrived for the pre-sentence hearing to chaotic scenes as an angry mob screamed abuse at him outside court.

As Pell stepped out of a car to enter court, he was met by an enraged crowd, and a large local and international media contingent. Melbourne journalist Nathan Templeton described the scene as "intense and quite frightening" after about a dozen members of the public jeered at the cardinal, calling him everything from a "maggot" to a "monster".

"You're the devil. You're evil … You're a paedophile. You're a criminal. May you rot in hell," one protester shouted.

Pell's guilty verdict was made public on Tuesday after months of secrecy surrounding the trial.

He was convicted in December of raping one choirboy in Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral and molesting another in 1996.

A jury returned guilty verdicts for four counts of committing an indecent act with a child under 16 and one count of sexual penetration with a child under 16.

Richter said the appeal application was made on three grounds, firstly that the verdict of the jury was unreasonable and contrary to evidence.

He said he'd also argue there should be a retrial, on the grounds a graphic he wanted to use in the trial was rejected — and that there was a problem with the way the jury was constituted.

The Court of Appeal will hear the application for leave to appeal at a date to be confirmed.

If leave is granted, an appeal hearing may then proceed.

A jury returned guilty verdicts for four counts of committing an indecent act with a child under 16 and one count of sexual penetration with a child under 16. Photo / AP
A jury returned guilty verdicts for four counts of committing an indecent act with a child under 16 and one count of sexual penetration with a child under 16. Photo / AP

He had been newly appointed Archbishop of Melbourne when he committed the crimes.

Gibson said the two choristers were found drinking sacramental wine when the cardinal commenced the "brazen, forceful" sexual assault.

"Shortly after Pell came upon the offenders, he committed an indecent act upon (one of the victims)," he said.

"This involved placing the boy's face or head in proximity to his genital region. A short time after this, he sexually penetrated (the other boy). He then committed another indecent act … this involved touching the boy's genitalia. While this was occurring, Pell touched his own genitalia."

Richter today told the court that his client's victims "behaved in a naughty way" by drinking the church wine. But Judge Kidd pulled him up immediately.

"I'm not attracted to that submission," he said.

"It's completely irrelevant that the boys were doing something wrong."

The court heard that a month after the first incident, one of the boys was approached again in a back corridor.

"Cardinal Pell pushed himself again (the boy) and squeezed his genitalia for a brief period," Gibson said.

Richter today argued the fifth charge, which occurred a month after the original attack, did not warrant jail time on its own. He said that when Pell grabbed one of the boys' testicles in a corridor he did so out of an "inexplicable anger" but not because he wanted sexual gratification.

But Judge Kidd struck down that notion immediately.

"I disagree," he told the lawyer for the accused. "That wasn't a trifling sexual assault. There was arrogance and impunity about that."

The jurors returned a unanimous verdict in December as part of a retrial following a hung jury.

However, a suppression order prevented media reporting details of the trial until the gag was lifted on Tuesday morning.

Pell was granted extra time on bail over the festive season to have double knee replacement surgery in Sydney.

He had become increasingly frail and had difficulty walking unassisted throughout his trial.

On Tuesday, Richter accepted a prison sentence was inevitable but said he intended to appeal on three grounds, including that the jury verdict was unreasonable as it was contrary to the evidence.

The historical offences each carry a maximum 10-year prison sentence.