Cardinal Pell Holds ‘No Ill Will’ to Accuser

April 8, 2020 Updated: April 8, 2020

After more than a year in prison, Cardinal George Pell has spent his first night as a free man after Australia’s High Court acquitted him of five child sexual abuse offences.

On April 7, the High Court ruled (pdf) that there wasn’t enough evidence for the jury to convict him beyond reasonable doubt in December 2018.

Pell released a statement marking the court’s 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,” he said.

The trial was focused on whether he committed the alleged abuse of two 13-year-old choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996.

“My trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church; nor a referendum on how Church authorities in Australia dealt with the crime of paedophilia in the Church. The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not,” he said.

Pell was convicted by a jury in December 2018 after an earlier jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Their decision was upheld by Victoria’s Court of Appeal 2-1 last year.

The High Court found that the rulings were a mistake because there remained reasonable doubt as to Pell’s guilt.

“There is a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof,” the full bench of seven judges said in their judgment handed down by Chief Justice Susan Kiefel in Brisbane in the morning on April 7.

One of the former choirboys—who came forward after the other boy died in 2014—said he respected the High Court’s decision and accepts the outcome.

In a statement released by his lawyer, Vivian Waller, Witness J said, “I understand [the High Court’s] view that there was not enough evidence to satisfy the court beyond all reasonable doubt that the offending occurred.”

Witness J said he hoped the outcome wouldn’t discourage child sexual abuse survivors from coming forward, and reassured them “most people recognise the truth when they hear it.”

“I am content with that,” he said.

The father of the boy who died said through his lawyers on April 7 that he was shocked at the result and heartbroken for his son’s friend “who had nothing to gain from speaking out.”

The Vatican welcomed Pell’s acquittal, praising him for having “waited for the truth to be ascertained.”

In a statement, the Vatican said it had always had confidence in Australian judicial authorities and reaffirmed the Holy See’s “commitment to preventing and pursuing all cases of abuse against minors.”

Pope Francis offered his Tuesday morning mass for those who suffer from unjust sentences.

“I would like to pray today for all those people who suffer unjust sentences resulting from intransigence (against them),” the Pope said on April 7, speaking before the start of the mass.

He did not mention Pell by name.

Pell spent more than 400 days in prison—first in Melbourne’s Metropolitan Remand Centre and later at the maximum-security Barwon Prison. After his release, Pell was taken to the Carmelite Monastery in Melbourne’s east.

While Pell’s release has occurred during the Easter Holy Week, he will not celebrate Easter services in from of a congregation due to the global Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus pandemic, commonly known as the novel coronavirus pandemic.

For the same reason, Pell—who is Australia’s most senior Catholic—will not be able to travel to Rome for the time being.