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AUSTRALIA, April 7, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – The High Court of Australia has acquitted Cardinal George Pell of his convictions of historic child sexual abuse and released him from prison, in a unanimous descion by the court’s seven justices. Pell, 78, had been in prison since February 2019.
The charges had hinged on the uncorroborated testimony of one person.
The decision, announced Tuesday morning Australia time, brings a definitive end to the legal saga of the past several years. There will be no further re-trials or appeals – Pell is a free man. Below see a summary of responses to this historic news.
Cardinal Pell told the Catholic News Agency (CNA) that after a year in prison he is looking forward to offering Mass again.
“What I am really looking forward to is celebrating a private Mass,” Pell told CNA shortly after his release from prison. “It has been a very long time, so that is a great blessing.”
“Prayer has been the great source of strength to me throughout these times, including the prayers of others,” the cardinal said, “and I am incredibly grateful to all those people who have prayed for me and helped me during this really challenging time.”
Pell said that after seeing news of his acquittal on television, he heard cheers from other prisoners.
“I was watching the television news in my cell when the news came through. First, I heard that leave was granted and then that the convictions were quashed. I thought, ‘Well that’s great. I’m delighted,’” he said.
“Of course, there was no one to talk to about it until my legal team arrived. However, I did hear a great cheer from somewhere within the jail and then the three other inmates near me made it clear they were delighted for me.”
Sky News Australia Anchor Andrew Bolt, who has long defended Pell’s innocence, said that the cardinal will now take time to reflect on his future. Bolt said “going back to normality, that will not happen, because there is no normal. The hatred whipped up against George Pell is extreme. There are already people trying to think, ‘what can we do about him next?’ There is a media organization, the ABC, which is devoted to redeeming its shocking name in the persecution of George Pell by finding him guilty of something else. This will go on; there is no normal.”
Bolt appealed to “all fair-minded Australians,” saying: “Look at the evidence and think – how could this country have got to the stage when an innocent main was jailed, when the case against him was so preposterously weak? What does it say about Victoria Police? What does it say about the Victorian Court of Appeal? What does it say about the ABC? And what does it say about the media generally?”
Bolt also announced that Pell will speak to him in an exclusive interview in what is expected to be one of the cardinal’s only media engagements in the immediate aftermath of his acquittal.
The state-owned Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), which was widely criticized for leading a campaign against Pell, reacted to the High Court’s decision by announcing it is temporarily pulling a documentary featuring new allegations against the now-exonerated cardinal.
“In response to the high court’s decision regarding Cardinal George Pell, the ABC has temporarily removed episode three of Revelation from its platforms while updating its content,” a spokesman for the ABC said.
Victoria Police, who as far back as 2013 actively sought evidence that Pell committed sex crimes – even though no complaint had been made against him – issued no apology following Pell’s acquittal.
A statement issued this morning read: “We respect the decision of the High Court in this matter and continue to provide support to those complainants involved.”
“Victoria Police remains committed to investigating sexual assault offences and providing justice for victims no matter how many years have passed. We would also like to acknowledge the tireless work on this case by Taskforce Sano investigators over many years.”
Catholic Church in Australia
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher welcomed Pell’s acquittal, noting that Pell has “always maintained his innocence” and that the decision “confirms his conviction was wrong.”
“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 an official statement which was also recorded on video, Fisher thanked the judges for their “meticulous review of the facts and the detailed judgment setting out the reasons for acquittal.”
Fisher also said that he recognized that “past failings of the Church to protect children have contributed to public anger directed at the Church and its leaders.”
Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli, the senior Catholic cleric in the state of Victoria where Pell was convicted and imprisoned, said in a letter to Catholics in Melbourne that Pell’s legal battles have been “an intense and painful time for so many, especially all those personally involved in this case.”
“But most particularly, this has been a hard road for all those whose wounds of abuse have been re-opened and laid bare– our relatives, friends and fellow travellers,” he added.
“I want to firstly acknowledge ’J’, who brought forward his story of abuse for examination in the courts of law. This is a right we value and honour,” Comensoli said, referring to the single person whose uncorroborated testimony originally led to Pell’s conviction.
“I also acknowledge Cardinal Pell who has steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout. Rightly, he has been afforded the full possibilities of the judicial system. This decision means the Cardinal has been wrongly convicted and imprisoned, and he is now free to live his life peaceably within the community.”
Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge, who is the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said that the outcome “will be welcomed by many, including those who have believed in the Cardinal’s innocence throughout this lengthy process.”
“We also recognise that the High Court’s decision will be devastating for others. Many have suffered greatly through the process, which has now reached its conclusion,” Coleridge said in an official statement.
Coleridge added that the Pell’s acquittal “does not change the Church’s unwavering commitment to child safety and to a just and compassionate response to survivors and victims of child sexual abuse” and that “[a]ny person with allegations of sexual abuse by Church personnel should go to the police.”
In a message widely understood to refer to Cardinal Pell, Pope Francis tweeted this morning: “In these days of #Lent, we've been witnessing the persecution that Jesus underwent and how He was judged ferociously, even though He was innocent. Let us #PrayTogether today for all those persons who suffer due to an unjust sentence because of someone had it in for them.”
In these days of #Lent, we've been witnessing the persecution that Jesus underwent and how He was judged ferociously, even though He was innocent. Let us #PrayTogether today for all those persons who suffer due to an unjust sentence because of someone had it in for them.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 7, 2020
The Holy See Press Office has also issued a short statement saying that it “welcomes the High Court’s unanimous decision.” The Vatican “reaffirms its commitment to preventing and pursuing all cases of abuse against minors.”
Catholic faithful in Australia
Speaking on ABC News shortly after the verdict Professor Greg Craven, Vice-Chancellor and President of The Australian Catholic University (ACU) challenged the network for their role in the case.
After accusing ABC journalists of having worked closely with police during the legal saga, Craven challenged his interviewer, asking whether the network felt any guilt regarding the emotional impact on Pell’s sole accuser.
“How much guilt does the ABC feel, when having made sure that this victim has gone through years of hell only to be hauled down when the case should never have been brought?”
John Macauley, a former altar server at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, attended Pell’s trial and recent appeal hearing, and told LifeSiteNews that today’s decision “comes as great relief for those of us who believed the truth would eventually emerge.”
Macauely also said that today’s High Court’s decision should not, in his opinion, be the end of the matter. “It is alarming that a man had to spend nearly 14 months in prison on the uncorroborated say-so of a single accuser, despite having multiple alibis. There is a need for both the police and the public prosecutor to respond to charges of malicious prosecution,” he said.
His views have been echoed by Bernard Gaynor, a Catholic layman and prominent commentator on the Catholic Church in Australia. Gaynor said that the Victorian Appeals Court judges who upheld Pell’s original guilty verdict have had “their reputations…shattered by the High Court.”
Gaynor was also scathing in his criticism of members of the Victorian Police involved in the “witch hunt” against Pell as well as those in the Australian media who led the campaign against the cardinal.
Below is Pell’s full official statement upon his release:
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 to 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.