George Pell Gerard O’Connell
Title: Australia’s high court overturns guilty verdict against Cardinal George Pell on final appeal
Author: Gerard O’Connell
Publisher: America Media
Cardinal George Pell will be released from prison after Australia’s highest court dismissed the convictions of the most senior Catholic found guilty of child sex abuse. Ending an almost five-year juridical odyssey, Chief Justice Susan Kiefel delivered the court’s decision to an almost empty courtroom in Brisbane, Australia, just after 10 a.m. on April 7. Because of the ban on travel due to the coronavirus pandemic, the other high court judges remained in their home states. The decision means Cardinal George Pell will be released from Barwon Prison outside Melbourne.
Pope Francis’ former finance minister was convicted by a Victoria state jury in 2018 of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in a back room of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in December 1996 while he was archbishop of Australia’s second-largest city.
Pell was also convicted of indecently assaulting one of the boys after a Mass in early 1997. The 78-year-old cleric has served more than a year of a six-year sentence. He was ordered to serve three years and eight months behind bars before he became eligible for parole.
The High Court examined whether the Victorian Court of Appeal was correct in its 2-1 majority decision in August to uphold the jury verdicts.
The High Court of Australia announced via Twitter that in a unanimous 7-0 decision, they 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 written judgment from the high court questioned whether a reasonable doubt had been overcome in the jury’s vote of guilty in the 2018 trial in which Cardinal Pell was convicted on five charges: the sexual abuse of two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne cathedral in the 1990s, including the sexual penetration of a child, and four counts of committing an indecent act with, or in the presence of a minor. They concluded:
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 offences involved in both alleged incidents.
The cardinal received news of the court’s decision in Barwon Prison from his lawyers, where he has been held in solitary confinement. He was originally held in a prison in Melbourne but had to be transferred here for his safety.