Read Cardinal George Pell's statement after High Court overturns convictions and he walks free

George Pell pictured arriving at the Supreme Court of Victoria in June 2019.
George Pell pictured arriving at the Supreme Court of Victoria in June 2019.

Cardinal George Pell has won his appeal bid to the High Court and will be freed from prison.

He will be released from Barwon Prison, near Geelong, today. He has spent more than 400 days behind bars.

The court unanimously found Pell's conviction for child sex abuse should be overturned.

"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.

Pell, 78, was found guilty by a jury of the rape of a 13-year-old choirboy and sexual assault of another at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996 but Australia's most senior Catholic has always denied any wrongdoing.

Shortly after the outcome was announced, Pell released this statement:

"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 look forward to reading the judgment and reasons for the decision in detail.

"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.

"The only basis for long term healing is truth and the only basis for justice is truth, because justice means truth for all.

"A special thanks for all the prayers and thousands of letters of support.

"I want to thank in particular my family for their love and support and what they had to go through; my small team of advisors; those who spoke up for me and suffered as a result; and all my friends and supporters here and overseas.

"Also my deepest thanks and gratitude to my entire legal team for their unwavering resolve to see justice prevail, to throw light on manufactured obscurity and to reveal the truth.

"Finally, I am aware of the current health crisis. I am praying for all those affected and our medical frontline personnel."

High Court judgment summary

The Victorian Court of Appeal in August upheld a jury verdict convicting Pell in a 2-1 ruling.

In a 12-page application for special leave to the High Court, Pell's lawyers argued Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and Court of Appeal president Chris Maxwell made two errors in dismissing the earlier appeal.

Bret Walker SC and Ruth Shann say a mistake occurred because Pell was required to prove the offending was impossible, rather than leaving that onus to prosecutors.

Secondly, they argued the judges erred in not finding the jury's verdicts unreasonable, claiming there was reasonable doubt about whether opportunity existed for the crimes to have occurred.

They also claimed that changes in law over the decades since the crimes were said to have occurred make it more difficult to test sex assault allegations.

They argued Pell should be acquitted of all charges for a number of reasons including inconsistencies in the complainant's version of events.

But prosecutors argued there is no basis for the appeal, and the Victorian courts did not make an error.

Pell is serving a six-year jail term and won't be eligible for parole until he has served three years and eight months of his sentence.

He has been behind bars since March, 2019.

Affected by this story? Help is available.

  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • The Blue Knot Foundation 1300 657 380
  • Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277
  • MensLine 1300 789 978
  • Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
  • beyondblue 1300 224 636
  • In an emergency call triple zero

- with Australian Associated Press