Pell will be eligible for parole after three years and eight months.
Pell was found guilty on four charges of indecent acts and one of sexual penetration.
The ruling was only announced late last month due to a suppression order.
Cardinal Pell has maintained his innocence throughout and filed an appeal, which will be heard in June. It was not immediately clear if he will also appeal the sentence. He was also not wearing a cardinal's gold ring, which might reflect strict rules on jewelry in the state penal system.
In considering the sentence, Kidd said he had taken into account Pell's advanced age, health problems and the fact that he had lived "an otherwise blameless life in the 22 years since the offending".
A member of the public reacts to Pell's sentence. Image AP
"We have witnessed, outside of this court and within our community, examples of a witch-hunt or a lynch mob mentality in relation to you, Cardinal Pell".
As a clergy sexual abuse crisis throws the Catholic Church into deep crisis on several continents, more than a third of American Catholics say they have questioned whether to remain in the church, according to a new Gallup poll.
During his trial, Pell's own lawyer described the burly 1.9 metres tall cardinal as the "Darth Vader" of the Catholic Church.
By 2001 when Pell became Archbishop of Sydney, the country's top-ranking Catholic position, he was a polarizing national figure - revered by many conservative Catholics but criticized by liberals for his outspoken views. Kidd described the assaults as egregious, degrading and humiliating to the victims.
Outside the court, the emotion the case has generated was on full view, with victim advocates treating the sentencing as a watershed moment. He stood silently with his hands behind his back as the judge read his sentence.
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At a 2002 World Youth Day event in Toronto, Pell made headlines by saying "abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people" since abortion was "always a destruction of human life".
The sentencing hearing in the County Court lasted for just over an hour.
The deceased victim's father told CNN that his son had been an outgoing child who played sport and liked singing, a talent that earned him a scholarship to the prestigious boys' school and ultimately an invitation to sing in St. Patrick's Cathedral where the attack took place. I appreciate the court has acknowledged what was inflicted upon me as a child.
"There is no rest for me".
The appeal document says that "the verdicts are unreasonable and can not be supported, having regard to the evidence, because on the whole of the evidence, including unchallenged exculpatory evidence from more than 20 Crown witnesses, it was not open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the word of the complainant alone".
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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.
"He was distant, he was very uncomfortable, he treated me with contempt, and he didn't want to know", she said.
Pell was sentenced on the sixth anniversary of the election of Francis, who has revolutionized and revitalized the Catholic Church in some respects. Under Australian law it's illegal to identify sex abuse victims or reveal information that could expose who they are.
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