Brisbane, Australia (AFP) — Cardinal George Pell was released from prison on Tuesday, hours after Australia’s High Court quashed his conviction for child sex abuse, bringing to an abrupt end the most high-profile pedophilia case faced by the Catholic Church.
The 78-year-old left Barwon Prison near Melbourne after the court overturned five counts of sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in the 1990s.
Pell, who had steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout a lengthy court process, exited the jail where he has been held for the last year and issued a statement saying that a “serious injustice” had been remedied by the decision.
A jury had convicted Pell of the offences in December 2018 and that decision was upheld by a three-judge panel in Victoria state’s Court of Appeal last August, in a split 2-1 verdict.
But Australia’s High Court found there was “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof”.
The seven justices unanimously found a lower court had “failed to engage with the question of whether there remained a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place.”
However Pell’s legal woes may not be at an end, as he faces several possible civil cases including from the father of one of the alleged victims — now deceased — who is planning to launch a claim for damages.
The prosecution’s case had relied heavily on the testimony of Pell’s surviving accuser, who told a closed-door hearing that Pell had sexually assaulted the two boys in a Melbourne cathedral while he was archbishop of the city.