United Kingdom

George Pell's reaction in jail when his child sex abuse conviction was quashed

Cardinal George Pell leaves Barwon Prison on April 7

George Pell first learned he was a free man when a chorus of cheers echoed through the high-security jail where he was held, with his first reaction to the High Court decision: 'Well, that's great'.  

On Wednesday Cardinal Pell wakes to his first full day as a free man, putting quashed convictions for child sexual abuse behind him.

Australia's High Court acquitted him on Tuesday, ruling there wasn't enough evidence for the jury to convict him beyond reasonable doubt as they did in December 2018. 

The 78-year-old was watching television just after 10am when the news broke.   

'I was watching the television news in my cell when the news came through... I thought, "well, that's great. I'm delighted",' he told The Daily Telegraph through the friend.

'Of course, there was no one to talk to about it until my legal team arrived. However, I did get a great cheer from somewhere within the jail and then the three other inmates near me gave a great cheer as well.' 

When asked by a prison guard how he felt about the 'miracle', Cardinal Pell said there was no miracle, only 'justice'. 

Pell leaves the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne, Thursday, June 6, 2019 after his initial conviction

After more than 400 days in prison - first in Melbourne's Metropolitan Remand Centre and later the maximum security Barwon Prison - the Cardinal was taken to the Carmelite Monastery in the city's east. 

His first meal as a free man was steak and vegetables, which was cooked by nuns.  

Cardinal Pell did not stop to speak as he left the prison and instead issued a statement saying the serious injustice he has suffered had been remedied. 

'I hold no ill will to 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,' he said.

Cardinal Pell said his trial was not a referendum on the Catholic Church or how Australian church authorities dealt with paedophilia.

'The point was whether I had committed these awful crimes, and I did not,' he said. 

A nun closes the gates at the Carmelite Monastery in Kew, where George Pell is staying following his release HM Prison Barwon in Geelong

The Carmelite Monastery in Kew, where George Pell is staying following his release HM Prison Barwon in Geelong 

Cardinal Pell was charged by Victoria Police officers after a man came forward in 2014 alleging he and another choirboy had been sexually abused at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996.

That boy, now in his 30s, gave evidence in court, revealing he felt compelled to come forward after the death of the other boy.

A jury convicted Cardinal Pell of five charges in December 2018 after an earlier jury was unable to reach a verdict.

Victoria's Court of Appeal upheld the convictions last year.

With coronavirus sending Queensland into lockdown, the forecourt and road outside the High Court in Brisbane were empty for the handing down of Tuesday's decision.

Only three journalists were allowed in the courtroom as Chief Justice Susan Kiefel handed down the decision.

'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 full bench of seven judges said in their judgment.

Unlike the decision in Victoria's Court of Appeal last year, the judgment was not live streamed.

Instead the High Court posted the judgment online and tweeted the news to the world.

The father of the choirboy who died in 2014 was shocked by the court's decision and his lawyer Lisa Flynn said in a statement he was heartbroken for the surviving boy.

'Our client says this man, who the jury believed, is an upstanding citizen who had nothing to gain from speaking out other than to protect other children from the pain and suffering he has to live with on a daily basis,' Ms Flynn said.

The father will continue to pursue a civil case against Cardinal Pell.

Lawyers for the surviving complainant are expected to speak on Wednesday. 

The charges against George Pell:

The surviving choirboy had alleged that Pell had caught him and his friend swilling altar wine and said something like 'What are you doing here?' or 'You're in trouble'.

'There was this moment where we all just sort of froze and then he undid his trousers or his belt, like he started moving underneath his robes,' he said.

'He pulled [the other boy] aside and then he pulled out his penis and then grabbed [the other boy's] head.'

He said the other boy struggled while Pell's hands were around his head and shoulders.

The surviving choirboy said Pell then turned his attention to him and put his penis in his mouth. 

'Archbishop Pell was standing. He was erect and he pushed it into my mouth.'

Pell was originally found to have exposed himself and forced a boy to perform oral sex on him inside the sacristy of St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne (pictured). He always maintained his innocence

As an archbishop, George Pell was required to wear heavy vestments which a retired priest told broadcaster Alan Jones would make it impossible for him to easily expose his genitals 

A key argument in the cardinal's defence was that he could not have assaulted the boys in the robes he was wearing on the day of the main alleged offences. 

Cardinal Pell's vestments that day included an alb - a white tunic which reached the feet and had two slits to allow access to trouser pockets but no zips or buttons. 

The alb was secured tightly around the waist with a knotted rope cincture, which also secured a stole hanging around his neck, and over the alb was a decorative heavy chasuble which had no splits or openings.

Only one of Cardinal Pell's accusers gave evidence at trial against the man who rose to become the Vatican's treasurer. The other alleged victim had died of a heroin overdose and had denied ever having been abused.

The living complainant's evidence was not given in public but some of it was revealed from the bar table during the course of Pell's County Court trial.

Cardinal George Pell always maintained it would have been physically impossible for him to expose himself to a pair of 13-year-old choirboys. His vestments included an alb, chasuble, stole and cincture

How Cardinal Pell argued for freedom 

The timing of the alleged assaults was impossible.

It was not possible for Pell to be alone in the sacristies only a few minutes after the end of Mass.

It was not possible for Pell to be robed and alone in the priests' sacristy after Mass.

It was not possible for two choir boys to be sexually assaulted in the priests' sacristy after Mass by Pell undetected.

It was not possible for two robed sopranos to leave an external procession without being noticed.

The criminal acts attributed to Pell were physically impossible.

No one corroborated the second incident though the complainant said it happened in the midst of a 50-person choir.

County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd erred in not allowing Pell's defence to present a video in his closing arguments, and that there was a 'fundamental irregularity' in how Pell was arraigned at trial.

Psychologist and former priest Terry Laidler sat through almost all of the trial and told ABC's Law Report a set of robes was produced and sent to the jury room. 

Cardinal Pell's trial barrister Robert Richter QC described the complainant's version of events as a 'far-fetched fantasy'. He said his client's cumbersome multi-layered robes would have prevented access to his genitals.

The prosecution had argued it was still possible for Cardinal Pell to expose his penis to the boys while robed because of the slits in the alb. 

Sacristan Max Potter told the County Court that Pell would never have worn the alb on its own. Rather it would be under a chasuble and possibly a dalmatic, another thick layer of liturgical clothing. 

'The weight of those vestments are not light,' Mr Potter had said. It would be 'inhumanly possible' for Cardinal Pell to have exposed himself through the robes.

Cardinal Pell's former Master of Ceremonies Monsignor Charles Portelli also disagreed with the suggestion the then archbishop could have exposed himself through the secured alb.

'The whole point of the cincture is to keep the alb in place.'

The vestments were so heavy that Cardinal Pell required help robing and disrobing and Monsignor Portelli could recall only two occasions the senior cleric had not required his assistance in five years. 

Pope Francis exchanges Christmas greetings with Cardinal George Pell at the Clementina Hall on December 22, 2014 in Vatican City

Pope Francis appeared to address the quashing of George Pell's child sex convictions on Tuesday

Pope Francis has appeared to address the quashing of George Pell's child sex convictions days before Easter. 

The head of the Catholic Church seemingly compared the cardinal to Jesus in a tweet on Tuesday.

'In these days of #Lent, we've been witnessing the persecution that Jesus underwent and how He was judged ferociously, even though He was innocent,' Pope Francis wrote.

'Let us #PrayTogether today for all those persons who suffer due to an unjust sentence because of someone had it in for them.' 

Supporters of Cardinal Pell are pictured outside the High Court in Canberra on March 11

Pope Francis also appeared to comment on Cardinal Pell during his Tuesday morning mass.

'I would like to pray today for all those people who suffer unjust sentences resulting from intransigence (against them),' he said at the beginning of proceedings. 

He compared the suffering of those served unjust sentences to Jesus being persecuted with 'obstinacy and rage even though he was innocent'.

Pope Francis had previously focused his morning masses and prayers on the coronavirus pandemic.  

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