(Reuters) - Ex-Vatican Treasurer George Pell, 78, was released from jail on Tuesday after Australia’s highest court acquitted him of charges of sexually assaulting two teenaged choirboys in the 1990s.
The decision by the High Court of Australia to overturn Pell’s conviction by a lower court ends the prosecution of Australia’s most senior Catholic official.
Following is reaction to the court’s decision:
“I have consistently maintained my innocence while suffering from a serious injustice. This has been remedied today with the High Court’s unanimous decision.
“I hold no ill will toward my accuser, I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel; there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough.
“However, my trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church; nor a referendum on how Church authorities in Australia dealt with the crime of paedophilia in the Church.
“The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not.”
LISA FLYNN OF SHINE LAWYERS, ACTING FOR FATHER OF ALLEGED VICTIM, WHO DIED IN 2014:
“Our client is currently in shock ... he is furious.
“Our client says he is heartbroken for (his son’s friend, the accuser in the case) who stuck his neck out by coming forward to tell his story but was ultimately let down by a legal process that forced him to relive his pain and trauma for no benefit.
“We will continue to pursue a civil claim on behalf of our client despite the High Court’s ruling today.”
ARCHBISHOP MARK COLERIDGE, PRESIDENT, AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS CONFERENCE:
“Today’s outcome will be welcomed by many, including those who have believed in the cardinal’s innocence throughout this lengthy process.
“We also recognise that the High Court’s decision will be devastating for others. Many have suffered greatly through the process, which has now reached its conclusion.
“The result today does not change the Church’s unwavering commitment to child safety and to a just and compassionate response to survivors and victims of child sexual abuse.”
“Just a mere discussion of these topics brings back great hurt and when these things arise my thoughts are always with them. But the High Court, the highest court in the land has made its decision and that must be respected.”
“We are dismayed and heartbroken that Cardinal George Pell has successfully challenged his conviction for sexually abusing two choirboys and will be freed from prison.
“Our hearts ache for the surviving accuser in this case, and we hope that this disappointing ruling does not deter other victims from coming forward to report their abuse.”
“We respect the decision of the High Court in this matter and continue to provide support to those complainants involved. Victoria Police remains committed to investigating sexual assault offences and providing justice for victims no matter how many years have passed.”
AUSTRALIAN ATTORNEY-GENERAL CHRISTIAN PORTER:
“Obviously this is a very consequential decision, that will be pored over for years to come.
“Thoughts are with a whole range of people victims of sexual misconduct and people who have been before the Royal Commission (inquiry into Institutional Child Sex Abuse).”
MAUREEN HATCHER, FOUNDER OF SURVIVOR SUPPORT GROUP LOUD FENCE MOVEMENT:
“I just felt incredibly sad for survivors and any survivors who have spoken out. Because to me it was a bit like they’ve just been shot. It’s huge news and it’ll impact on so many people and it’s made even harder because of the isolation at the moment.”
CATHY KEZELMAN, PRESIDENT OF TRAUMA SUPPORT GROUP BLUE KNOT FOUNDATION:
“We are absolutely devastated ... For many survivors this decision will be crushing as the immense courage it takes to stand up and be seen and heard is enormous.
“Pell now has his freedom, but many abuse victims have never been free – trapped in the horror of the crimes which decimated their lives.”
ANNE BARRETT DOYLE, CO-DIRECTOR, BISHOPACCOUNTABILITY.ORG:
“Though distressing to many survivors, the decision doesn’t change the fact that the trial of the powerful cardinal was a watershed.”
ANDREW DYER, SENIOR LECTURER, UNIVERSITY OF SYDNEY LAW SCHOOL:
“It’s a big thing to overturn a jury’s decision, but their Honours did say that this is one of those instances where that had to happen.
“Ultimately, the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions) was unable to explain to the court why these convictions were sound. In those circumstances, I think that really the court almost had no option to find as it did.”
“I think that the conclusions that it has reached are pretty sound on the whole.”
Compiled by Sonali Paul; edited by Jane Wardell