BRISBANE, Australia (ChurchMilitant.com) - Cardinal George Pell is being freed after 13 months in prison.
The High Court of Australia on Tuesday overturned Cdl. Pell's conviction on one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 years and four charges of committing an act of indecency with or in the presence of a child under the age of 16 years.
Pell is to be freed immediately. The cardinal's name will also be removed from Australia's register of child sex offenders.
The ruling marks a stunning turnaround for Pell, who had lost every previous bid to prove his innocence. According to Tuesday's ruling:
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.
In December 2018, a jury found Pell guilty of abusing two altar boys in the 1990s, when he was serving as archbishop of Melbourne. Throughout the trial and after, the cardinal held fast to his innocence, but in March 2019, Justice Peter Kidd sentenced Pell to six years in prison, declaring that by categorically denying the charges against him, Pell showed "no evidence of remorse or contrition" that would justify a reduction in punishment.
But on Tuesday, the High Court found that the analysis of lower court judges "failed to engage with the question of whether there remained a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place, such that there ought to have been a reasonable doubt as to the applicant's guilt."
The justices echoed what Pell's supporters have long argued — that the allegations against the cardinal simply didn't hold water:
The Court held 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 offenses involved in both alleged incidents. With respect to each of the applicant's convictions, 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."
In a statement issued shortly after the decision, Cdl. Pell reiterated his innocence.
"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," he said.
"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," Pell noted.
"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 pedophilia in the Church. The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not," he said. "The only basis for long-term healing is truth and the only basis for justice is truth, because justice means truth for all."
The cardinal also expressed his gratitude to his many supporters across the world.
"A special thanks for all the prayers and thousands of letters of support," he said. "I want to thank in particular my family for their love and support and what they had to go through; my small team of advisors; those who spoke up for me and suffered as a result; and all my friends and supporters here and overseas."
"Also my deepest thanks and gratitude to my entire legal team for their unwavering resolve to see justice prevail, to throw light on manufactured obscurity and to reveal the truth," he said.