Australia's High Court overturns sexual abuse convictions for George Pell, a former advisor to Pope Francis and Australia's most senior Catholic cleric

By Rosie Perper
Business Insider
April 06, 2020

Cardinal George Pell officiates the opening mass of World Youth Day (WYD), in Sydney on July 15, 2008.

Australia's High Court has overturned Cardinal George Pell's conviction for sexual abuse, allowing him to walk free in time for Easter. 

The court announced the decision on Tuesday morning local time. 

"The High Court granted special leave to appeal against a decision of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria and unanimously allowed the appeal," the judgment reads.

"The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought 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."

The 78-year-old previously served as archbishop of Melbourne and was also one of Pope Francis' closest advisors.

Pell was convicted of one charge of sexual penetration of a child and four charges of committing an act of indecency with or in the presence of a child on December 11, 2018. The prosecution alleged that the incidents happened on two separate occasions, once in 1996 and again in 1997 at Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral following a Sunday mass service. The alleged victims were two 13-year-old choir boys. 

Pell was taken into custody last February. His legal team appealed to Victoria's Court of Appeal last year unsuccessfully. 

The High Court on Tuesday unanimously concluded that "there ought to have been a reasonable doubt" as to whether Pell was guilty, essentially that there was not enough evidence to convict him.

Pell released a statement after the High Court ruling, maintaining his innocence and calling the convictions against him "a serious injustice." 

"I have consistently maintained my innocence while suffering for a serious injustice," the statement read. "This has been remedied today with the High Court's unanimous decision." 

"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," he continued. 

"However my trial was not referendum not he Catholic church; nor a referendum on how Church authorities in Australia dealt with the crime of pedophilia in the Church. The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not."

Archbishop Mark Coleridge from Australian Catholic Bishops Conference released a statement, saying that the ruling "does not change the church's unwavering commitment to child safety and to a just and compassionate response to survivors and victims of sexual abuse." 

Victoria Police released a statement, saying that it respected the court's decision: "Victoria police remains committed to investigating sexual assault offenses and providing justice for victims no matter how many years have passed." 

Fiona Patten, a member of the Legislative Council in Victoria, decried the ruling. 

"Every Australian knows the truth about George Pell," she said in a statement on Twitter. "No amount of holy water will wash the stain off." 

Catherine King, a member of Australia's parliament for the Labor Party, said in a statement she would respect the High Court's decision, but would not respect the system which allowed for abuse allegations to be covered up. 

"While I respect the High Court decision I will never respect an institution, system and individual that allowed the abuse in Ballarat to not only occur but to be covered up. Love to all of our courageous survivors."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.