Cardinal George Pell is allowed to leave jail immediately after Australia’s highest court overturned his conviction for sexually abusing two choir boys.
“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 said in a two-page summary of the ruling, according to The Guardian.
The ruling cited the court case Chidiac v The Queen, saying there was “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof.”
Pell, 78, will now be released from Barwon Prison, near Melbourne, after spending more than 400 days behind bars. In 2018, he became the highest ranking Catholic Church official to face such criminal sexual-abuse charges, and the High Court’s stunning decision brings his long-running court case to an end.
Pell, Pope Francis’ former finance minister, was convicted in December 2018 by a unanimous jury that found him guilty of five counts related to the abuse of two 13-year-old choir boys at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in December 1996. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
“I hold no ill will to my accuser,” Pell said in a statement responding to the High Court’s decision to overturn his conviction. “I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel; there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough. However my trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church; nor a referendum on how Church authorities in Australia dealt with the crime of paedophilia in the Church. The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not.”