The High Court of Australia has unanimously overturned the conviction of Cardinal George Pell for alleged acts of child sex abuse that could not possibly have taken place. He has been acquitted and the prosecution cannot appeal.
The 78-year-old cardinal, formerly head of the Vatican’s finances, now emerges in his true colours: as a Christian of heroic fortitude who was the victim of one of the most despicable miscarriages of justice in the history of Australia.
For the past five years, Catholics and countless impartial observers all over the world have watched in horror as Pell was accused by the State of Victoria and then convicted on the basis of evidence riddled with implausibilities and impossibilities.
This week’s High Court’s ruling could not be clearer. It said that the jury that convicted Pell ‘ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted’ – all relating to one fictitious episode – and ordered that ‘the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place’.
Pell was convicted by a jury in December 2018 on the basis of claims by just one man. It was his second trial: earlier, a first jury could not reach a verdict. That the second jury convicted Pell unanimously is hard to explain.
The cardinal then took his case to Victoria’s Court of Appeal. Two judges dismissed the appeal; a third, Justice Mark Weinberg, issued a dissenting statement in which he said he had genuine doubts as to Pall’s guilt and that the jury should have had them too.
The story told by Pell’s anonymous accuser was bizarre. He claimed that in 1996 Cardinal Pell, then Archbishop of Melbourne, assaulted him and a fellow 13-year-old boy in the sacristy of his cathedral.