April 7, 2020 3:17:57 AM
Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic found guilty of child sex abuse, has welcomed the Australian High Court’s decision to quash his convictions.
Pope Francis’ former finance minister had spent 13 months in prison but seven judges ruled unanimously on Tuesday that he should be released.
In a statement, the 78-year-old cleric said: “I have consistently maintained my innocence while suffering from a serious injustice.”
Pell was convicted 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 and sentenced to six years.
The High Court found that the Victorian Court of Appeal was incorrect in its 2-1 majority decision in August to uphold the jury verdicts.
“I hold no ill will toward my accuser,” Pell added, saying: “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.
“The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not.”
Much of the two-day High Court hearing focused on whether the jury should have had a reasonable doubt about Pell’s guilt and whether he could have time to molest the boys in five or six minutes immediately after a Mass.
During the hearing, Pell’s lawyer Bret Walkers said 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.
“That… is a grotesque version of the reversal of onus of proof, if all the Crown has to do is to prove the possibility of something,” he said.
The High Court statement said: “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 (Pell’s) guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted.”