Saturday, 06 June, 2020

Pell faces Vatican inquiry into child abuse allegations

Cardinal Pell to walk free after Australian court dismisses sexual abuse convictions Australia's High Court Overturns Cardinal Pell's Child Sexual Abuse Conviction
Deanna Wagner | 08 April, 2020, 16:12

Former Vatican treasurer George Pell was jailed previous year for abusing two choirboys.

The seven judges of the High Court agreed unanimously that the jury in the cardinal's trial "ought to have entertained a doubt" about his guilt.

In its report on the decision, the official Vatican News website recalled that Pell had always maintained his innocence and his right to defend himself until all levels of justice were exhausted.

The verdict comes in the middle of Holy Week, the period leading up to Easter, the most important day in the Christian calendar.

The pope appointed Pell to overhaul the Vatican's vast finances in 2014 and has withheld comment on the case throughout the trial and appeals.

Coronavirus restrictions meant the verdict was delivered to a near-empty Brisbane courtroom - in stark contrast to earlier hearings that drew large crowds of his supporters and detractors, the world's media and members of the legal profession.

Pell, who is known for his conservative views, remained a cardinal but lost his treasurer role previous year when he became the highest ranked Catholic official worldwide to be jailed for child sex offences.

It is expected that Pell will walk free from a prison in Victoria state Tuesday after serving a year behind bars.

Pell said, "I hold no ill will toward my accuser", a former choirboy whose testimony was at the core of the 78-year-old cleric's prosecution.

In 2018, a jury convicted him of abusing two choirboys in the 1990s.

The Church investigation may decide to dismiss the allegations, or it may go through a full canonical trial, a process which takes place behind closed doors.

Pell's accuser, one of two boys the archbishop was alleged to have assaulted, had said the offenses took place shortly after Sunday masses, in the priests' sacristy and corridor of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne, while Pell was robed.

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Pell's lawyers had argued there were "compounding improbabilities" in the case, including that Pell would not have had the time or opportunity to molest the boys in the priests' sacristy after Mass, when he would usually be on the cathedral steps greeting congregants.

The Victoria Court of Appeal rejected his subsequent request to overturn his convictions after judges ruled against Pell in a 2-1 majority decision.

Cardinal Pell said an injustice had been "remedied".

He first went to police in 2015 after the second victim died of a heroin overdose at the age of 31.

The statement said the Holy See "has always expressed confidence in the Australian judicial authority", and noted that "Cardinal Pell has always maintained his innocence and has waited for the truth to be ascertained".

"The point was whether I had committed these very bad crimes, and I did not", he said.

"We also recognize that the High Court's decision will be devastating for others", he said.

The Vatican said in a statement that it "welcomes the High Court's unanimous decision concerning Cardinal George Pell, acquitting him of the accusations of abuse of minors and overturning his sentence".

He said that "justice for victims is never served by the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of anyone".

The Vatican had said Cardinal Pell faced an abuse investigation by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, but that investigation was put on hold awaiting the conclusion of the Australian legal process.

"Now that the highest court in the land has given a judgement, I hope this will bring some sense of resolution to all those affected by the proceedings", Bishop Bird said on Tuesday.