Cardinal George Pell will be immediately freed from prison after Australia’s High Court unanimously overturned his conviction on five counts of historical child sex abuse.
The momentous decision, handed down Tuesday by Chief Justice Susan Kiefel, ends a five-year legal battle that started when a man in his 30s approached police alleging Pell had abused him as a child in the mid-1990s.
At the time, Pell was Vatican Treasurer and the highest ranking Catholic official to ever be publicly accused of child sex offenses. Pell strenuously denied the charges, which he dismissed in a 2016 police interview as a “product of fantasy.”
In its two-page summary of the ruling, the High Court said that the jury “ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt with respect to each of the offenses for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place.”
Tuesday’s High Court ruling overturns his conviction on one count of sexual penetration of a child and four counts of committing an indecent act with a child. The cardinal’s name will also be removed from Australia’s register of child sex offenders.
In a statement released from prison, Pell said he held “no ill will” toward his accuser.
“I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel; there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough…. The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not,” the statement said.