Australia’s Cardinal Pell walks free as high court overturns child sex abuse conviction

MELBOURNE, Apr 7: The High Court of Australia on Tuesday unanimously acquitted 78-year-old Cardinal George Pell of child sex offences, in a major relief to the country’s most senior Catholic.
Once the Vatican’s third-ranking official, Pell was released from Barwon Prison outside Melbourne after serving 13 months of a six-year sentence.
He was sentenced in March last year to six years in prison with a non-parole period of three years and eight months.
The High Court ruled in its judgement that there is a “significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof”.
Pell was Vatican Treasurer and the highest ranking Catholic official to ever be publicly accused of child sex offenses.
The court released a statement explaining the decision which renders Pell’s earlier convictions of sexually abusing two choir boys in the 1990s null and void.
“Today, the High Court granted special leave to appeal against a decision of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria and unanimously allowed the appeal.
“The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place,” the court wrote.
The unanimous decision was made less than a month after the High Court heard two days of legal arguments from the defence and prosecutors.
Pell, the former top aide of Pope Francis, said in a statement: ”I have consistently maintained my innocence while suffering from a serious injustice”.
“This has been remedied today, with the High Court’s unanimous decision. I look forward to reading the judgment and reasons for the decision in detail.
“I hold no ill will toward my accuser. I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel. There is certainly hurt and bitterness enough,” he said.
Pell was serving a six-year jail term after his conviction two years ago for abusing two choirboys in the 1990s, while he was the archbishop of Melbourne.
He was accused of committing the crimes after he found the boys swigging altar wine in the priests’ sacristy after mass in Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral.
His defence appealed to the High Court that the court failed to take proper account of evidence.
On Tuesday, the High Court granted his application for special leave and unanimously acquitted him.
Last year, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison had suggested that Pell was likely to lose his Order of Australia honour as a result of the court outcome.
In 2005, Pell became a Companion of the Order of Australia for his contribution to the Catholic Church. (PTI)