Ex-Vatican treasurer Pell freed from jail, acquitted of sex offences
Send a link to a friend
[April 07, 2020]
By Sonali Paul
(Reuters) - Australia's highest court
acquitted former Vatican treasurer George Pell on Tuesday of sexually
assaulting two teenaged choirboys in the 1990s, freeing the 78-year-old
cardinal after 404 days in jail.
The High Court ordered Pell's convictions be quashed and verdicts of
acquittal be entered in their place, ending the most high profile case
of alleged historical sex abuse to rock the Roman Catholic Church.
The seven judges of the High Court agreed unanimously that the jury in
the cardinal's trial "ought to have entertained a doubt" about his
guilt. Pell, who has maintained his innocence throughout the lengthy
court process, cannot be retried on the charges.
"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," Pell said in a statement shortly before he was
driven away from the maximum security Barwon Prison near Melbourne.
The verdict comes in the middle of Holy Week, the period leading up to
Easter, the most important day in the Christian calendar.
An official Vatican comment was expected later on Tuesday.
A few hours after Pell's acquittal, Pope Francis offered his morning
Mass for those who suffer from unjust sentences. Francis did not mention
Pell by name.
"I would like to pray today for all those people who suffer unjust
sentences resulting from intransigence (against them)," Francis said,
speaking extemporaneously at the start of the Mass.
The pope appointed Pell to overhaul the Vatican's vast finances in 2014
and has withheld comment on the case through the trial and appeals.
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said it was
"dismayed and heartbroken" by the verdict.
"This is a disappointing ruling that only exacerbates the mistrust
survivors feel," SNAP Australia said in a statement.
Pell, a polarising figure in Australia for his conservative views,
remained a cardinal but lost his treasurer role last year when he became
the highest ranked Catholic official worldwide to be jailed for child
He was serving a six-year sentence on one charge of sexual penetration
of a child under 16 and four charges of an indecent act with a child
under 16, which the plaintiff said took place when Pell was archbishop
of the city of Melbourne.
DID NOT TAKE STAND
Pell's first trial ended in a hung jury. The jury at his second trial in
2018 unanimously found him guilty. Pell did not take the stand at either
A lower appeal court had upheld Pell's conviction, but the High Court
found it had failed to properly consider evidence that should have
raised doubt that he was guilty.
[to top of second column]
Cardinal George Pell attends a news conference at the Vatican, June
29, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli/File Photo
Pell's accuser, one of two boys the archbishop was alleged to have
assaulted, had said the offences took place shortly after Sunday
masses, in the priests' sacristy and corridor of St. Patrick's
Cathedral in Melbourne, while Pell was robed.
The High Court judges pointed to unchallenged evidence from church
officials at Pell's trial that he typically spent time talking to
congregants on the church steps after mass, he was always
accompanied by a priest while robed, and the sacristy was usually a
hive of activity after mass.
The lower appeals court and the trial jury watched a video of his
accuser's testimony, described by the prosecutor as "powerful and
persuasive". The High Court did not view it and said it should not
have been necessary for the appeal court to have viewed it.
"FURIOUS" AND "HEARTBROKEN"
The second alleged victim in the case died in 2014 of a drug
overdose. His father, who is pursuing a civil case against Pell,
said through his lawyer Lisa Flynn he was "in shock" and "furious" a
conviction by a unanimous jury had been overturned.
"Our client says he is heartbroken for (his son's friend, the
accuser in the case) who stuck his neck out by coming forward to
tell his story," Flynn of Shine Lawyers said.
Vivian Waller, a lawyer for the accuser, said her client would make
a statement on Wednesday.
While the trial and appeals were held in courtrooms packed with
media and supporters for both sides, Tuesday's decision was
delivered to a largely empty courtroom in Brisbane because of
national restrictions on travel and public gatherings amid the
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said the acquittal would
be welcomed by many and "devastating for others."
"The result 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," said Archbishop Mark
Coleridge, president of the conference.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Additional reporting by Philip Pullella
in Rome; Editing by Jane Wardell and Raju Gopalakrishnan)
[© 2020 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2020 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Thompson Reuters is solely responsible for this content.