At Last Cardinal Pell’s Innocence Vindicated
On April 7, 2020, Cardinal George Pell, 78, walked free from the Australian state of Victoria's Barwon Prison, after the seven-member High Court of Australia quashed the verdict of the County Court of Melbourne, and the majority decision of the Court of Appeal.
In a highly unusual decision, the seven judges unanimously ruled that the jury’s verdict was unsound, because it had not taken into account the evidence of the many witnesses that it was practically impossible for the archbishop to have been in two places at the same time. In their words, 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 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.”
The sole evidence of the man whose testimony convicted the Cardinal was given total acceptance by the second jury who unanimously agreed Pell was guilty, and this was accepted without demur by the presiding judge in late 2018. The High Court’s ruling showed that the prosecution of Pell, managed by the police and prosecutors of the State of Victoria, was seriously flawed.
Cardinal Pell had returned voluntarily to Australia to “have his day in court” after been accused of sexually abusing two choirboys in 1996. He was granted his wish, albeit after spending 400 days in prison, much of it in solitary confinement.
In a statement, the Cardinal said, "I have consistently maintained my innocence while suffering from a serious injustice. I hold no ill will toward my accuser. 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."
Just how such an injustice happened is a good question. Without doubt, the scandalous behaviour of far too many abuser priests in Australia was the root cause for the persecution of Pell. His combative response to media criticism of the Church as well as his vigorous defence of orthodox doctrine made him the lightning for public anger and anti-Catholic venom. In addition, by and large the Australian bishops performed poorly in the way they dealt with the scandals, so by the time Pell returned to face his accusers, he faced a witch-hunt fomented by certain elements in the media. The Cardinal was made the scapegoat, and the reputation of the rule of law in Australia has suffered serious damage.
Pope Francis offered his morning Mass for those who suffered from unjust accusations and court-imposed prison sentences “resulting from intransigence [against them]”.