Cardinal George Pell (a former Vatican treasurer under Pope Francis) can now walk free after Australia’s highest court overturned convictions for sexual assault of two teenage boys in 1990s.
The court ruling on Tuesday now paves the way for the 78-year-old to be released from prison, a decision experts warned could further undermine survivors’ trust in the court system moving forward.
Chief Justice Susan Kiefel read the judgement to a near-empty High Court in Brisbane with only a handful of journalists and observers allowed inside due to coronavirus social distancing regulations.
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 bench found.
A statement issued by Pell shortly after the judgement said that he had “consistently maintained my innocence while suffering from a serious injustice”.
“My trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church,” Pell added.
The embattled Pell, who was previously the archbishop of Melbourne, was unanimously convicted of the two sex offences against children in December 2018 by a jury in Victoria.
Pell was found guilty last year of the rape and sexual assault of two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral while he was the city’s archbishop in the late 1990s.