Cardinal George Pell has left prison after winning his High Court appeal to overturn his conviction for sexually abusing two choirboys.
His convictions have been quashed and he has been acquitted, meaning he was allowed to walk free from Barwon prison, near Geelong, on Tuesday.
Helicopter footage from the ABC showed Cardinal Pell leaving in a black SUV in a three-car convoy at about 12.30pm.
Cardinal Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic, was found guilty in 2018 of sexually abusing the choirboys at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s.
The 78-year-old had served a year of his six-year sentence he received last year.
The full bench of seven judges gave a unanimous judgment on Tuesday.
"The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant's guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and the verdicts of acquittal be entered in their places," a summary of their decision, handed down on Tuesday, said.
In the summary the High Court said the “unchallenged evidence” of the opportunity witnesses was inconsistent to the complainant’s account.
Cardinal Pell’s practice of greeting congregants at the Cathedral steps after Sunday solemn Mass and the church process that he must always be accompanied in the Cathedral were cited as reasons the High Court questioned the evidence put forward in the complaint.
The ongoing traffic in and out of his sacristy for up to 15 minutes after Mass was another point the court said challenged the validity of the complaint.
Pell speaks for first time after decision
Cardinal Pell has always maintained his innocence and released a statement following the decision on Tuesday.
He says he feels no ill will towards the man who accused him of child sexual abuse.
Cardinal Pell said he had consistently maintained his innocence while suffering from a serious injustice, which had now been remedied with the High Court's unanimous decision to overturn his convictions.
"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,” 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.
He thanked his family, advisers, friends and legal team for their support.
He lost an appeal in Victoria's Court of Appeal last year.
Victoria Police released a statement shortly after Tuesday’s decision saying it “respected” the High Court’s decision.
“We respect the decision of the High Court in this matter and continue to provide support to those complainants involved,” it read.
“Victoria Police remains committed to investigating sexual assault offences and providing justice for victims no matter how many years have passed.
“We would also like to acknowledge the tireless work on this case by Taskforce Sano investigators over many years.”
More to come.
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