UPDATE: On January 10th 2023, Cardinal George Pell died at Salvator Mundi International Hospital in Rome, Italy. He passed at the age of 81 from complications following hip replacement surgery.
The former financial controller of the Vatican and most senior Catholic Church official to be found guilty of child sexual assault, Cardinal George Pell, will be released from prison and have his conviction overturned. He has served more than 400 days in isolation behind bars.
In December 2018, a Melbourne jury unanimously convicted Pell of five charges relating to child sexual abuse dating back to a Sunday service at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.
However, on the 7th of April 2020, the High Court said 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 also said the jury should have entertained a doubt around Pell’s guilt with respect to each of the individual offences. Because there was reasonable doubt, the High Court quashed all of Pell’s convictions and ordered verdicts of acquittal be entered in its place.
It was not enough that the jurors found the complainant and witnesses to be believable, credible and honest.
Pell’s legal team, led by Bret Walker SC (Senior Counsel), argued it was “literally impossible” for the complainant to have been abused on the day in question and claimed a “formidable list” of factors and events providing Pell with an alibi.
Pell’s first appeal was shot down on a majority of two to one. This ‘botched decision’ by Victoria’s highest court left Pell in prison for an additional seven months for crimes he never committed.
Walker SC argued on behalf of Pell before a full bench of seven High Court judges in Canberra. Walker SC claimed that just because the complainant was believable, it shouldn’t discount other evidence placing Pell’s conviction in doubt.
The High Court decision does not deny the validity of the complainant, a former choir boy who testified he and a friend were sexually assaulted by Pell. Walker SC and Victoria’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Kerri Judd QC, agreed the choirboy was a credible, believable witness.
However, all seven High Court judges, Australia’s finest legal minds, decided in Pell’s favour.
Pell learned of his success from inside his isolated cell at Barwon Prison, home to some of Australia’s most dangerous criminals.
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Image: Al Jazeera