The unanimous decision by Australia’s High Court to quash a guilty verdict and enter a verdict of “acquitted” in the case of Pell vs. The Queen reverses both the incomprehensible trial conviction of Cardinal George Pell on a charge of “historic sexual abuse” and the equally baffling decision to uphold that false verdict by two of the three members of an appellate court in the State of Victoria last August. The High Court’s decision frees an innocent man from the unjust imprisonment to which he has been subjected, restores him to his family and friends, and enables him to resume his important work in and for the Catholic Church. The decision also begins the process of rebuilding international confidence in Australia’s criminal justice system, which has been badly damaged by the Pell case—although there is much more remedial work to be done on that front, especially in the State of Victoria, Ground Zero of the Pell witch hunt that raged for years and that culminated in this tawdry affair.
Close students of Pell vs. The Queen have known for some time that this case ought never have been brought to trial. The police investigation leading to allegations against the cardinal was conducted in a dubious, indeed sleazy, fashion. The magistrate at the committal hearing (the equivalent of a grand jury proceeding ) was under intense pressure to bring to trial a set of charges she knew were very weak. When the case was tried, the Crown prosecutors produced no evidence that the alleged crimes had ever been committed, basing their argument solely on the testimony of the complainant—testimony that was inconsistent over time and that has subsequently been shown to have been deeply flawed. There was no corroborating physical evidence and there were no witnesses to corroborate the charges. To the contrary: those directly involved in Melbourne’s cathedral at the time of the alleged offenses (some twenty years ago) insisted under oath and during cross-examination that it was impossible for events to have unfolded as the complainant alleged—neither the time-frame used by the prosecution to describe the alleged abuse nor the complainant’s description of the layout of the cathedral sacristy (where the crimes were said to have been committed) made any sense. This extensive testimony in the cardinal’s defense was never seriously dented by the prosecution. Moreover, the sheer impossibility that what was alleged to have happened actually happened was subsequently confirmed by objective observers and commentators, including those who held no previous brief for Cardinal Pell (and one who had been a severe critic).
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