Australian cardinal acquitted of all child abuse charges in shock ruling
Australian Cardinal George Pell has been freed from jail after being acquitted by Australia’s highest court of charges of child abuse in a shock ruling.
Pell, who once was the third-most senior Catholic Church official and who fell from grace after revelations of historical child abuse emerged against him, was released from Barwon Prison near Anakie, some 70 kilometers west of Melbourne, on Tuesday after he was acquitted of charges following an appeal made last week.
The ex-Vatican treasurer and former close adviser to Pope Francis, had been sentenced to six years in prison last December on charges of sexually assaulting two choir boys under the age of 16 in the mid-1990s. He was the archbishop of Melbourne at the time and was the highest ranking Catholic official worldwide to be incarcerated for child sex offences.
Pell maintained his innocence throughout the prolonged court process.
The High Court ruling closed his case, and he cannot be retried on the charges.
The verdict, which came in the middle of the Catholic Holy Week, spurred strong reactions, mainly from the victims of abuse.
The father of one victims, whose son died from drug overdose in 2014, said through his lawyer that he was “in shock” and “furious” and “heartbroken.”
The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) said it was “dismayed and heartbroken” by the outcome and expressed hope that the ruling would not dissuade other victims from reporting their own cases of abuse.