The much anticipated and awaited decision of the High Court of Australia in the case of Cardinal Pell’s child sexual assault conviction has been delivered this morning. The County Court of Victoria had convicted Pell and his conviction was upheld in the Victorian court of appeal. This morning delivering the reserved decision, the high court has unanimously decided that Pell will walk free.
The full judgement takes aim at the Court of Appeal in Victoria, which initially dismissed Pell’s appeal by a majority of two-to-one. Readers will remember, there was one dissenting judge in the Victorian Court of Appeal who had found that the evidence did not prove beyond reasonable doubt that the alleged assault(s) could take place in the manner and at the time and place(s) as alleged.
The judgement says the analysis of the judges of the Court of Appeal “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”.
It seems the High Court has found the following to be germane to the possibility that the offending had not taken place:
(i) the applicant’s practice of greeting congregants on or near the Cathedral steps after Sunday solemn Mass;
(ii) the established and historical Catholic church practice that required that the applicant, as an archbishop, always be accompanied when robed in the Cathedral; and
(iii) the continuous traffic in and out of the priests’ sacristy for ten to 15 minutes after the conclusion of the procession that ended Sunday solemn Mass.
The High Court found that with respect to each of Pell’s convictions, there was “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof”.
Now that the conviction has been quashed by the High Court, George Pell is free to walk out of prison any time. Possibly Cardinal Pell will be looking at making arrangements to travel to Vatican at the first available opportunity possibly to resume his duties.
More to follow.