Australia’s highest court on Tuesday overturned the child sex abuse convictions of former Vatican treasurer George Pell on Tuesday, paving the way for the 78-year-old to be freed from prison.
In a unanimous ruling, the High Court found that the jury in the 78-year-old’s trial “ought to have entertained a doubt” as to his guilt.
The court’s seven judges ordered that the convictions be quashed and verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place, meaning Pell cannot be retried on the charges.
Pell had maintained his innocence throughout a high-profile and lengthy court process.
A jury found Pell guilty in December 2018 in a decision that was upheld by a three-judge panel in Victoria state’s Court of Appeal last August, in a split 2-1 verdict.
The highest court said the lower court had “failed to engage with the question of whether there remained a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place, such that there ought to have been a reasonable doubt as to the applicant’s guilt”.
The prosecution’s case had relied almost entirely on the testimony of Pell’s surviving victim, who testified in a closed-door hearing that he had sexually assaulted them in a Melbourne cathedral while he was archbishop of the city.
The second choirboy – who is not known to have ever spoken of the abuse – died of a drug overdose in 2014. Neither man can be identified for legal reasons.
It is expected that Pell will walk free from a prison in Victoria state later on Tuesday after serving a year of his six-year sentence.
The former Vatican treasurer remains in the priesthood.
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