Australian Cardinal George Pell, sentenced to 6 years in prison on charges of paedophilia – the decision was upheld in Victoria state’s Court of Appeal last August – has been acquitted of all charges today by the High Court, the highest court in Australia, and is in the process of being released. Pell was found guilty of sexual abuse in 1996 in the sacristy of Melbourne Cathedral, when he served as archbishop of the diocese, on two 13-year-old choristers caught drinking Mass wine. The court ruling was announced this morning in an almost empty courtroom in Brisbane due to Covid-19 restrictions. The news will be posted on Twitter at 10am (local time).
“I have consistently maintained my innocence while suffering from a serious injustice. This has been remedied today with the High Court’s unanimous decision.” These are the opening remarks of a long statement released by Cardinal George Pell, published shortly after the decision was delivered. “I look forward to reading the judgment and reasons for the decision in detail”, the Cardinal wrote. “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. 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”, His Eminence writes. In the statement, Cardinal Pell thanks all those who prayed for him and wrote him 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.” The Cardinal’s words of gratitude extend to his small team of advisors, friends and especially to the entire legal team “for their unwavering resolve to see justice prevail, to throw light on manufactured obscurity and to reveal the truth.”
The comments of Australian bishops. The archbishop of Brisbane, Msgr. Mark Coleridge, President of Australia’s Episcopal Conference, pointed out that the High Court sentence issued today “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. The safety of children remains supremely important not only for the bishops, but for the entire Catholic community.” In a statement, the archbishop recognizes that today’s ruling “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.” Speaking on behalf of all Australian bishops, Msgr. Coleridge assured the bishops’ unwavering commitment to ensure justice and protection of minors, reiterating that “any person with allegations of sexual abuse by Church personnel should go to the police.”
The archbishop of Sidney Msgr. Anthony Fisher welcomed the Cardinal’s exoneration from the High Court and thanked the judges for “their meticulous review of the facts” giving their reasons for acquittal. He added: “Cardinal Pell’s trial has also been a trial of the country’s legal system and culture. The Cardinal’s vindication today invites broader reflection on our system of justice, our commitment to the presumption of innocence, and our treatment of high profile figures accused of crimes.” “I recognise that the past failings of the Church to protect children have contributed to public anger directed at the Church and its leaders. I know that it is only by our sustained action seeking justice for all survivors of child sexual abuse and exhibiting best practice in safeguarding all vulnerable people that healing will occur and trust be restored.”