Photo Credits: The Times
In March 2019, Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to jail for six years with no chance for parole for at least three years and eight months for the child sex abuse he was convicted of back in December of 2018. Pell was convicted of abusing two choirboys while he was archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s. Now, Australia's highest court has overturned the conviction of the most senior Catholic cleric ever to be convicted of child sex abuse.
The decision was unanimous.
The high court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to Pell’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.
In other words, it wasn’t enough jurors found the witness believable, compelling and honest. The other evidence should have called his account into question, the bench found.
“Nobody apart from the alleged victims and the alleged perpetrator were present in the room,” said Bret Walker, the lawyer representing Cardinal Pell at the appeal. Activities after the Sunday Mass, Mr. Walker added, would have made it either “impossible” or “so unlikely” as to leave no realistic possibility for Cardinal Pell to molest them.
"I hold no ill 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 in a statement to Australian media after the high court's ruling.
"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," Pell said in the statement. "The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not."
Pope Francis had wisely avoided mentioning the Cardinal, but it could be speculated that he was talking about that case between the lines:
In these days of Lent, we've been witnessing the persecution that Jesus underwent and how He was judged ferociously, even though He was innocent. Let us pray together today for all those persons who suffer due to an unjust sentence because someone had it in for them.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said: "The result today does not change the Church's unwavering commitment to child safety and to a just and compassionate response to survivors and victims of child sexual abuse. The safety of children remains supremely important not only for the bishops, but for the entire Catholic community."