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Conscience Magazine

Cardinal Pell’s Acquittal Was as Opaque as His Sexual Abuse Trial

September 15, 2020

Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Roman Catholic cleric to ever face trial over child sexual abuse, walked out of prison a free man after Australia’s highest court reversed his 2018 conviction for molesting two boys decades earlier.

Arguing that jurors ignored “compounding improbabilities” caused by conflicting accounts from the cardinal’s main accuser and other witnesses, the seven-judge panel ruled that the jury lacked sufficient doubt about the accusations against Cardinal Pell.

But no one outside the court case can test that comparison, the New York Times reported. The central evidence—the testimony of the main accuser, on which the case “was wholly dependent,” the judges wrote—has never been released, not in video or audio nor even redacted transcripts.

It is just one glaring example of the secrecy and lack of accountability that shaped the Pell prosecution from the beginning. No criminal trial in Australia’s recent history has been as high-profile nor as hard to follow and scrutinize.

A few weeks after his conviction was overturned, word came that an Australian government inquiry found that Pell, the former archbishop of Melbourne and treasurer for the Vatican, knew decades ago that other Roman Catholic priests had sexually abused children and failed to take action. That conclusion was reached in 2017 by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which issued a lengthy report on the victimization of children within the Catholic church and other institutions in Australia. But its findings about Cardinal Pell were redacted from the original report to avoid prejudicing potential jurors in the cardinal’s pending trials on sexual abuse charges.