A full bench of the High Court of Australia unanimously decided to quash the conviction of Cardinal George Pell on Tuesday, meaning he will walk free from prison.
The 78-year-old cardinal 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.
In December 2018 a jury found him 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.
The High Court’s judgment overrules that verdict and cardinal Pell has been acquitted on all charges.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews released a brief statement saying "he made no comment on today's High Court decision".
"But I have a message for every single victim and survivor of child sex abuse: I see you. I hear you. I believe you,".
Child sexual abuse advocate Chrissie Foster said the decision was “devastating” for all those who were victims of childhood sexual abuse.
“It’s a terrible shock, they got the guilty verdict, they went through all the process, that was the verdict we had and it was upheld and now it means nothing,” she said.
Survivors of child sexual abuse advocate Chrissie Foster says she's devastated by High Court decision on George Pell
Meanwhile, Archbishop Mark Coleridge from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference released a statement saying today’s ruling would be “welcomed by many, including those who believed in the cardinal’s innocence throughout this lengthy process”.
“The result today does not change the Church’s unwavering commitment to child safety and to a just and compassionate response to survivors and victims of child sexual abuse. The safety of children remains supremely important not only for the bishops, but for the entire Catholic community,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
Dr Cathy Kezelman, president of the Blue Knot Foundation honoured the courage of those who spoke out about childhood sexual abuse.
“To have to prove that you were abused and betrayed can be more than overwhelming given the profound impacts of trauma,” she said.
“The child sexual abuse pandemic within the Catholic church has threatened the safety of millions of children, the adults they become and the very moral fibre of what it means to be human. Pell now has his freedom, but many abuse victims have never been free, trapped in the horror of the crimes which decimated their lives,” she added.
The Anglican priest of the Gosford Church Rod Bower, famed for his political church billboards said on Facebook, "Our hearts go out to survivors of clerical child sexual abuse today. Good Friday has come early for you, and Easter seems a long way off," he said.
Meanwhile, the cardinal himself said in a statement released on Tuesday morning he had always maintained his innocence and had suffered a "serious injustice".
"My trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church; nor a referendum on how the Church authorities in Australia dealt with the crimes of paedophilia in the church," he said.
"The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not," he added.
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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.