The Vatican has welcomed the acquittal of Cardinal George Pell of sexual abuse charges. The Holy See has always placed trust in Australian justice, the Vatican press office said.
Pell had "always maintained his innocence and waited for the truth to be established". At the same time, the Vatican reaffirmed its commitment to the prevention and prosecution of any abuse of minors. There was no word on whether the church's own internal investigation into the now 78-year-old former Vatican finance chief would continue or be dropped.
Relief at Pell
Australia's top court had overturned Pell's six-year prison sentence for sexual abuse in Brisbane this morning (local time). The jury should have had doubts about the defendant's guilt based on the evidence, the unanimous decision of the seven judges published via Twitter said. Pell, sentenced to six years in early 2019, was still released from his prison near Melbourne on Tuesday.
Pell himself received the verdict with great relief. "I have always maintained my innocence while suffering a grave injustice," the cardinal said in an emailed statement. Without specifically referring to Pell, Pope Francis prayed in his Mass on Tuesday for all those who would be unjustly condemned out of blind rage.
Exculpatory witnesses expressed doubts
Pell had been convicted in December 2018 on charges of sexually abusing two choirboys. Jury reached guilty verdict based solely on testimony of one of the alleged victims. In summer 2019, an appeals court upheld Pell's conviction by majority vote of two of the three judges. Exculpatory witnesses expressed doubts about the accounts of the alleged assaults.
After his release from prison, Pell now faces further civil lawsuits for abuse of juveniles. Also, further criminal proceedings are possible for perjury and obstruction of justice in Pell's testimony before the state abuse committee. Evidence of those allegations could be found in the two volumes of the state abuse commission's final report, which will be released after the trial is now concluded.