George Pell appeal: Cardinal to walk free after child abuse convictions quashed

Clay Curtis
April 7, 2020

In a statement after the High Court overturned his convictions, Cardinal Pell also said his trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church's handling of child abuse.

Pell's lawyers lost their original appeal for Pell's freedom and chose to take the case to Australia's High Court which granted Pell's release.

The High Court found that, "on the assumption that the jury had assessed the complainant's evidence as thoroughly credible and reliable, the evidence of the opportunity witnesses nonetheless required the jury, acting rationally, to have entertained a reasonable doubt as to the applicant's guilt in relation to the offences involved in both alleged incidents".

The 78-year-old Pell was serving a six-year prison sentence after being found guilty for abusing two choir boys at St Patrick's Cathedral in the 1990s when he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

Pell's original guilty finding, by a unanimous jury in 2018, was upheld by an appeals court last August, prompting the archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, to note what he described as the "divided opinion amongst legal commentators and the general public" about the facts of the case. Speaking to Nine newspapers, Gabrielle Shaw, chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood in the United Kingdom, said that Pell walking free would send the message that "whatever the rights and wrongs" of the case, "if you are sufficiently rich and powerful the system will work for you more than it works for victims".

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Today, Cardinal George Pell will either walk free or remain in jail to serve the remainder of his six-year sentence for child sexual abuse.

"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". "However my trial was not a referendum of the Catholic Church: nor a referendum on how Church authorities in Australian dealt with the crime of pedophilia in the Church". The cardinal, former Vatican treasurer, was once a close aid to Pope Francis. "The point was whether I had committed these bad crimes, and I did not", he said.

Victoria Police said in a statement that it respected the decision of the High Court, according to NBC News partner 7News in Australia.

Pell's lawyer Bret Walker told the High Court that all that the prosecution had to do at his trial and appeals court hearing was to prove that Pell being left alone while robed or not talking with congregants after Mass was "possible" to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. On 13 November 2019, Gordon and Edelman JJ referred the application for special leave to a Full Court of the High Court for argument as on an appeal.

Coleridge said that anyone with allegations should go to the police. "The safety of children remains supremely important not only for the bishops, but for the entire Catholic community".

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