Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell was on Tuesday released from prison, hours after the Australian High Court acquitted him of charges of sexually assaulting two teenaged choirboys in the 1990s, AFP reported.
The decision to overturn Pell’s conviction by a lower court ends the most high profile case of alleged historical sex abuse faced by the Roman Catholic Church.
Pell, who maintained his innocence throughout the lengthy court process, left Barwon Prison near Melbourne and issued a statement saying that a “serious injustice” had been remedied by the decision.
The seven judges of the High Court agreed unanimously that the jury in the cardinal’s trial “ought to have entertained a doubt” as to his guilt. The court also cited precedent from an unrelated case that “there is a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof.”
The 78-year-old 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,” Pell added.
Pope Francis, who appointed Pell to overhaul the Vatican’s vast finances in 2014, said previously he would comment only after all avenues of appeal had been exhausted.
Lawyer for the father of the deceased choirboy said their client is “disgusted” and “in utter disbelief” at the outcome. “He is struggling to comprehend the decision by the High Court of Australia,” Lisa Flynn said. “He says he no longer has faith in our country’s criminal justice system.”
“He is furious the man he believes is responsible for sexually abusing his son was convicted by a unanimous jury only to have that decision overturned today,” Flynn added.
The former Vatican treasurer remains in the priesthood, but his future role in the Catholic Church remains unclear.