Cardinal George Pell is to be released from prison after he won his appeal, and Australia’s highest court on Tuesday overturned his convictions for child sexual abuse.
A full bench of seven judges ruled that Pell’s conviction for child sex abuse should be overturned and he should walk free immediately. They unanimously determined that the jury should have had reasonable doubts as to Pell’s guilt and that the jury had not properly considered all the evidence at his trial.
Pell, 78, became the highest-ranking Catholic clergyman worldwide to be imprisoned for child sex offenses after he was arrested in 2018 for five counts of sexual assault.
A jury determined in December 2018 that the ex-Vatican treasurer was guilty of having abused two choir boys in Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 and 1997 when he was serving as Archbishop of Melbourne.
Pell, who has always maintained his innocence, went to the High Court after having lost in the lower Court of Appeal in Victoria in August 2019, when a two to one majority dismissed his appeal.
Over two days in March, Pell’s latest and final appeal to the High Court was heard by seven justices. Many questions about the prosecution’s case were raised during the hearing.
Pell will leave Barwon Prison, near Victoria’s city of Geelong, after having spent more than 400 days there as part of a six-year prison sentence.