CANBERRA – Cardinal George Pell says he holds no ill will towards his accuser and has thanked his family, friends and supporters after the unanimous decision of the High Court of Australia to quash his convictions for historical sex abuse offences.
The decision was delivered in Brisbane at 10am on 7 April by Chief Justice Susan Kiefel. It comes almost three-years after the cardinal was charged with historical sexual abuse offences.
“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,” said the cardinal in a statement.
“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 paedophilia in the Church.
“The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not.”
Cardinal Pell appealed to the High Court after the Victorian Court of Appeal last August dismissed his appeal against his December 2018 conviction. The High Court ruled the jury’s verdicts, on four counts of indecent assault and one of sexual penetration of a child, were unsafe.
In a two-page statement, the full seven member bench of the High Court said it had found that “the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, out 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”.
“With respect to each of the applicant’s convictions, there was, consistently…’a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof,” it concluded.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP welcomed the cardinal’s exoneration by the High Court and thanked the judges for their “meticulous review of the facts” and detailed judgement giving their reasons for acquittal.
“I am pleased that the Cardinal will now be released and I ask that the pursuit of him that brought us to this point now cease,” he said in a statement.
The archbishop acknowledged that some people will struggle with the decision. “Cases like these can reopen the wounds of survivors of abuse so that they feel like they are on trial too,” he said.
“But justice for victims is never served by the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of anyone. I hope and pray that the finality of the legal processes will bring some closure and healing to all affected.”
The cardinal was released from Barwon Prison, near Geelong, around midday.
Cardinal Pell, 78, strenuously maintained his innocence throughout, and served more than 12 months – 404 days – of a six-year jail term.
He was charged in 2017 following a lengthy police investigation, which included the unprecedented step for advertising for potential allegations.
The Cardinal returned from Rome where he was the Prefect of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy, effectively the Vatican’s treasurer charged with reforming the Vatican curia and finances by Pope Francis.
Full statement from Cardinal George Pell
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.
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 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.
The only basis for long term healing is truth and the only basis for justice is truth, because justice means truth for all.
A special thanks for all the prayers and thousands of letters of support.
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.
Finally, I am aware of the current health crisis. I am praying for all those affected and our medical frontline personnel.
Cardinal George Pell