Canberra (TEH) – Cardinal George Pell, convicted of sexual abuse, has surprisingly been released. The highest Australian court granted the 78-year-old’s appeal, and the Vatican’s number three was released from a high-security prison near Melbourne after around 13 months in prison. Due to coronavirus restrictions, Supreme Judge Susan Kiefel delivered the verdict in an almost empty courtroom in Brisbane, and Australian media showed Pell driving away in a convoy.
Where was initially unknown. In a first reaction, the 78-year-old described the court’s decision as a remedy for the “serious injustice” that had occurred to him, but he had “no resentment” against his accusers, he said in a press release. He didn’t want his acquittal to add to the pain and bitterness that so many felt. In addition, he does not see his trial as a referendum on the Catholic Church or on how the Australian church authorities deal with pedophilia. “It was about whether I had committed these terrible crimes, and I didn’t,” said Pell. The court has been dealing with the 78-year-old’s last possible appeal since March. The court’s decision followed the defense’s arguments, which indicated weaknesses in testimony: in March 2019, the former Melbourne Archbishop had been sentenced to six years in prison for abusing two choir boys in the 1990s. He rejects all allegations. The former Vatican finance chief is the highest-ranking clergyman in the history of the Catholic Church convicted of child abuse.
The testimony of an earlier choir boy, who is now in his mid-30s, was decisive in this, and Pell’s defenders argued that it was not sufficient to establish the cardinal’s guilt beyond any doubt. Another argument: after a Sunday mass, it was impossible for an archbishop to be alone with two choir boys in the sacristy for five or six minutes – this is how it was supposed to have been in an assault, in the other case for which Pell was convicted according to his defense, there are no witnesses. The prosecution also reversed the burden of proof: instead of proving Pell’s guilt, the defense had to prove his innocence, and Pell’s first attempt to have the judgment pronounced in March 2019 overturned by an appeals court failed in August. Accordingly, Pell could have been released from custody in October 2022 at the earliest. After the decision of the Court of Appeal, the clergyman’s lawyers appealed to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court dealt with it.