Issued on: 07/04/2020 – 02:48
Australia's highest court on Tuesday overturned former Vatican treasurer George Pell's conviction for sexually assaulting two teenaged choirboys in the 1990s, allowing the 78-year-old cardinal to walk free from jail.
In a unanimous ruling, the High Court found that the jury in Cardinal Pell's trial "ought to have entertained a doubt" as to his guilt.
The court's seven judges ordered the convictions be quashed and verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place.
Pell, who has maintained his innocence throughout the lengthy court process, cannot be retried on the charges, ending the most high profile case globally of alleged sexual abuse by priests to have rocked the Roman Catholic Church.
Pell, a polarising figure in Australia for his conservative views, was the highest ranked Catholic official worldwide to have been jailed for child sex offences when he began serving a six-year sentence a year ago.
The cardinal was charged in 2017 with one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four charges of an indecent act with a child under 16, which the plaintiff said took place when Pell was archbishop of the city of Melbourne.
The judgment was delivered during Holy Week, the period leading up to Easter which is the most important day in the Christian calendar, following two days of hearings a month ago.
The decision was delivered to a largely empty courtroom in Brisbane because of national restrictions on travel and public gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Pell's first trial ended in a hung jury, before the jury in a second trial unanimously found him guilty in 2018. Pell did not take the stand at either trial.
Under Australia's court system, his first appeal went to a court in Victoria, where a majority of two judges against one upheld his conviction.
Pell's lawyers then took the case to the High Court, arguing that the Victoria appeals court had eRead More – Source