Child Sex Conviction of Pope Francis' Former Treasurer Overturned by Australian High Court

Australian Cardinal George Pell was released from prison after his convictions were overturned by the High Court on Monday. Pell had been convicted of sexually abusing two boys.

Pell allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct with the youths during the 1990s after discovering them drinking wine from the altar after Sunday mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne.

At the time of his conviction, Pell was the Vatican treasurer and an adviser to Pope Francis. When questioned about the allegations by detectives, Pell called them "a load of absolute and disgraceful rubbish."

Pell's lawyers lost their original appeal for Pell's freedom and chose to take the case to Australia's High Court which granted Pell's release. He had served six years in prison.

In its decision, the High Court wrote that it would allow the appeal because the jury in Pell's trial "ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant's guilt with respect to each of the offenses for which he was convicted."

Court of Appeal officials "failed to engage with the question of whether there remained a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place, such that there ought to have been a reasonable doubt to [Pell's] guilt," according to the High Court's ruling.

george pell
Former Vatican treasurer George Pell was acquitted of child sexual abuse Monday by the Australian High Court. Michael Dodge/Getty

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

"I hold no ill will to 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 continued. "However my trial was not a referendum of the Catholic Church: nor a referendum on how Church authorities in Australian dealt with the crime of pedophilia in the Church. The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not."

"The sole matter for examination in this case was whether Cardinal Pell committed certain
despicable crimes, of which he has now been acquitted, and not about the broader question of how
Church authorities have dealt with sexual abuse," said Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli in a statement sent to Newsweek on Monday. "Yet, I fully appreciate that people have seen in this
case another emblematic story of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest. And it has brought a deeper
weariness of soul to people of faith."

"Today's outcome will be welcomed by many, including those who have believed in the cardinal's innocence throughout this lengthy process," said Brisbane Archbishop Mark Coleridge in a Monday statement. "We also recognize that the high court's decision will be devastating for others. Many have suffered greatly through the process, which has now reached its conclusion."

Pell never took the stand to defend himself during the trial. Some observers believed Pell could not have committed the crimes as detailed in the accusation. Pell's defense lawyers claimed Pell's clerical robes would not have allowed him to expose himself to the plaintiffs as described.

President of the Blue Knot Foundation, an Australian victim support group, Dr. Cathy Kezelman said in a Monday statement that for a victim to "have to prove that you were abused and betrayed can be more than overwhelming given the profound impacts of trauma."

"The child sexual abuse pandemic within the Catholic church has threatened the safety of millions of children, the adults they become and the very moral fiber of what it means to be human," Kezelman said. "Pell now has his freedom, but many abuse victims have never been free—trapped in the horror of the crimes which decimated their lives."