Cardinal George Pell, 78, was acquitted in his appeal by the Australian High Court, the highest court in the country, of all charges brought against him.
The prelate had been sentenced to six years in prison, in the trial court and then in the court of appeals, for abuse of altar boys who were allegedly committed in 1996 and 1997. Cardinal Pell had always strongly denied these accusations.
The seven magistrates of the Brisbane High Court, recognized that there was “an important possibility that an innocent person could have been convicted because the investigation did not establish his guilt according to the required degree of evidence.” The court of appeal of the State of Victoria by upholding the original conviction, had moreover reflected this possibility. The sentence of the three judges was split two to one.
The High Court therefore held, unanimously, that the lower court had “failed to consider whether there remained a reasonable possibility that the offense had not been committed, so that there should have been a doubt reasonable as to the guilt of the accused.”
Cardinal George Pell said after his acquittal that this decision had remedied “a grave injustice.” Speaking to his accuser, Cardinal Pell added that he had “no resentment” towards him. And thinking of those who might experience “hurt and bitterness,” he added that he did not want his acquittal to be an additional burden.
The prelate was released the same day - this Tuesday, April 7 - from Victoria State prison where he spent a year.
During his trial, the former C9 member - the special council of cardinals formed by Pope Francis to assist him - had been relieved of all duties.