Acquittal must not cause more hurt and bitterness: Pell
Cardinal George Pell hopes his acquittal will not cause more hurt and bitterness, as Australia’s most senior cleric prepares to spend his first evening a free man after 405 days in jail.
In a statement after the High Court’s stunning decision to overturn his convictions, Cardinal Pell, 78, said he had suffered a serious injustice but bore no ill will to the man who accused him of sexual abuse.
“I hold no ill will toward my accuser,” he said.
“I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel; there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough.
“The only basis for long term healing is truth and the only basis for justice is truth, because justice means truth for all.”
Cardinal Pell said he had consistently maintained his innocence and his trial should not be seen as a referendum on the church nor how leaders had handled paedophilia crimes.
He thanked his family and “those who spoke up for me and suffered as a result.”
“Also my deepest thanks to my entire legal team for their unwavering resolve to see justice prevail, to throw light on manufactured obscurity and to reveal the truth.”
There has been mixed reaction to the Court’s unanimous decision.
Church leaders have acknowledged the suffering of victims of abuse and renewed their commitment to child safety while groups representing survivors expressed dismay.
President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the verdict would devastate many people.
“Many have suffered greatly through the process,” Archbishop Coleridge said.
“The result 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.”
Melbourne Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli said the case had been “intense and painful” for Catholics and people who had been abused.
“It has brought a deeper weariness of soul to people of faith,” Archbishop Comensoli said.
He acknowledged the complainant for bringing forward his case, which the Archbishop said “is a right we value and honour”.
“This decision means the Cardinal was wrongly convicted and imprisoned and he is now free to live his life peaceably in the community.”
Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said the decision might reopen wounds for people who have suffered sexual abuse.
“I recognise that the past failings of the church to protect children have contributed to public anger,” Archbishop Fisher said.
But the Archbishop said justice for victims was never served by wrongful conviction and jail.
“The Cardinal’s vindication today invites broader reflection on our system of justice, our commitment to the presumption of innocence and our treatment of high profile figures accused of crimes,” Archbishop Fisher said.
Cardinal Pell left Victoria’s Barwon Prison two hours after High Court Chief Justice Kiefel delivered the decision.
One of Australia’s most dramatic and significant criminal cases came to an abrupt end in less than 60 seconds, with Justice Kiefel proclaiming “Appeal allowed. Convictions quashed” before adjourning the court.
All seven High Court judges agreed the convictions be thrown out.
In a two-page summary of the judgement, the High Court said the jury “ought to have entertained a doubt as to Pell’s guilt”.
Australia’s most senior cleric was convicted of five charges for abusing two choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1995 and 1996.
From the beginning Cardinal Pell stressed his innocence. He was due to spend at least another two and half years in jail.
The first trial fell over after a jury was unable to reach a decision but a second jury found him guilty on the five charges.
Cardinal Pell argued the jury reached its verdict despite significant reasonable doubt but Victoria’s Court of Appeal found the jury got it right in a majority 2-1 decision.
Significantly, Australia’s most experienced criminal law judge, Justice Mark Weinberg, was unconvinced. In a 200-page judgement he said he could not exclude the possibility that some parts of the former choirboy’s testimony was “concocted”.
Anti-abuse campaigner Chrissie Foster said she was “absolutely gutted” by the acquittal which would be distressing for child rape victims.
“It is just because he is George Pell,” Ms Foster said. “There is no appeal for the victim”.
Victims’ groups said the legal system had failed while others said justice had finally prevailed.
For information regarding the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn’s Professional Standards and Safeguarding please go to www.cgcatholic.org.au/professional-standards/support/ or contact CatholicCare on 6295 4300.