Australia

George Pell says he 'holds no ill will' to his accuser as he walks free from prison

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Cardinal George Pell has walked free from prison after his historic child sex abuse convictions were quashed by the High Court on Tuesday.

Cardinal George Pell says he holds "no ill will to my accuser" after a full bench of the High Court of Australia quashed his conviction, allowing him to walk free from prison.

The court said that it had reached a unanimous decision on Tuesday. 

"The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant's guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place," the judgement read. 

The 78-year-old Pell was serving a six-year prison sentence after being found guilty for abusing two choir boys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in the 1990s when he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

The Cardinal has always maintained his innocence. In a statement on Tuesday before his release, he thanked his supporters, his family and his legal team, and spoke of the "serious injustice" he had suffered.

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He added he didn't want his acquittal to trigger more hurt and bitterness.

"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 in the statement.

Pell said his trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church, and not 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.

In December 2018 a jury found Pell guilty of the sexual penetration of a child under the age of 16 and four counts of committing an indecent act with or in the presence of a child.

He walked free from Barwon Prison in Victoria on Tuesday.

George Pell arrives at the County Court in Melbourne during earlier hearings.
George Pell arrives at the County Court in Melbourne during earlier hearings.
AAP

Previous court hearings of Pell's involved supporters and opponents of the cardinal gathering outside the court. But on Tuesday the High Court of Australia sat virtually due to coronavirus social distancing measures. 

The court's judgement said there ought to have been reasonable doubt into whether the offending took place.

"While the Court of Appeal majority assessed the evidence of the opportunity witnesses as leaving open the possibility that the complainant's account was correct, their Honours' analysis failed to engage with the question of whether there remained a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place, such that there ought to have been a reasonable doubt as to the applicant's guilt," the judgement said. 

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More to come.

Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25).

More information is available at Beyond Blue.org.au and lifeline.org.au.Anyone seeking information or support relating to sexual abuse can contact Bravehearts on 1800 272 831 or Blue Knot on 1300 657 380.

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