Cardinal George Pell has been released by Australia’s highest court after unanimously quashing his conviction for sexual assault of two boys twenty years ago at a Cathedral. He was serving a six year sentence. The jury had unanimously believed his accuser, one of the boys. The prosecuting QC said of his evidence: “It was absolutely compelling. …. He was clearly not a liar. He was not a fantasist. He was a witness of truth.” His alleged fellow victim had died from a drug overdose, albeit without having disclosed the abuse allegation to his family.

On the other hand, the jury at an earlier trial had failed to reach a verdict. Cardinal Pell denied the charges of assaulting the boys in the cathedral. He and others maintained that he could not have had the time or opportunity to carry out the assault. The High Court unanimously concluded that the doubts raised about time and opportunity were sufficient to overturn the verdict.

Cardinal Pell repeated “I have consistently maintained my innocence while suffering from a serious injustice”.

Nevertheless, Cardinal Pell acknowledged “there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough”… “I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel”.
Cardinal Pell added: “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.

According to a report in the Daily Mail: “While Cardinal Pell walked free from his prison nightmare … his career as one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church is expected to remain in tatters despite the Pope publicly backing him until the bitter end. … Whether the matter continues in the civil courts will be played-out over the coming weeks, months and possibly years.”

Keith Porteous Wood, IAFT spokesperson on clerical abuse commented. “At least Cardinal Pell acknowledged the bitterness felt by many. He talks of ‘Church authorities in Australia’ as if they were some remote bureaucracy, but no one worked harder than him over decades to minimise victims’ compensation.

It is not necessarily plain sailing from here for Cardinal Pell. The burden of proof for civil claims is less onerous, so their success is more likely. It is still possible that further criminal cases could be brought. Also, sections of the Australian abuse commission’s 2017 final report were redacted so as not to prejudice child sex abuse cases against Cardinal Pell. They will presumably be released and can be expected to make uncomfortable reading. 

London, 7 April 2020