Australia’s High Court unanimously overturned the conviction of Cardinal George Pell and he has been freed from prison. Pell had been convicted of five counts of historical child sex abuse. Yesterday, Chief Justice Susan Kiefel, after a five-year legal battle, put an end to what began when a man in his 30s approached police and accused Cardinal Pell of sexually abusing him as a child in the mid-1990s.
In the 90’s, Cardinal Pell was the Vatican Treasurer and the highest ranking Catholic official to ever be publicly accused of child sex offenses. Pell has continued to deny the charges and in 2016 he dismissed them in an interview as a “product of fantasy.”
The High Court said in a two page summary of the ruling that the jury “ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt with respect to each of the offenses for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place.”
The High Courts ruling overturns Pell’s conviction on one count of sexual penetration of a child and four counts of committing an indecent act with a child. Additionally, Pell’s name will also be removed from Australia’s register of child sex offenders. Pell said in a statement released from jail that he held “no ill will” toward his accuser.
“I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel; there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough…. The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not,” the statement said.
Just three hours after the ruling, Pell was driven out of the Prison with news helicopters following overhead.
Pell’s accuser still has not made a statement on this new ruling.
With the Global Pandemic and social distancing being enforced, there were not that many people attending the trial and the child abuse survivor, who has attended most previous hearings, was refused entry on arrival at Brisbane Airport and flown back to Melbourne as part of pandemic control measures.