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.’
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.
Cardinal Pell won his appeal bid to the High Court on Tuesday and walked free from Barwon Prison, near Geelong in the Australian state of Victoria, after more than 400 days behind bars.
The court unanimously found Cardinal Pell’s conviction for child sex abuse should be overturned.
‘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.
Cardinal Pell released a statement saying the serious injustice he suffered had been remedied.
‘I hold no ill will to my accused, 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.
The 78-year-old 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.
A little over two hours after the 10am (AEST) decision, Pell was whisked from jail to the Carmelite Monastery in the Melbourne suburb of Kew.
In December 2018, a jury found Cardinal Pell guilty of five charges, accepting evidence of one complainant that the then-Archbishop of Melbourne had sexually abused him and another 13-year-old choirboy at St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996.
One of the choirboys died in 2014, prompting the other to bring the allegations to police.
In an initial trial, a jury was unable to reach a verdict. The second jury was unanimous in its decision. An appeal to Victoria’s Court of Appeal last year was unsuccessful.
Cardinal Pell has always maintained his innocence, a fact noted in the High Court’s 26-page decision.
He told Victoria Police officers in Rome in 2016 that the most rudimentary interviews with staff and choirboys would tell them the allegations were ‘fundamentally improbable’ and ‘most certainly false’.
The High Court found the Victorian Court of Appeal majority – Chief Justice Anne Ferguson and President Chris Maxwell – had failed to engage with the idea that against a body of evidence, the complainant’s account was not correct.
The judges put aside the likelihood of the boys slipping away from the post-Mass procession without detection and the possibility Cardinal Pell could have exposed himself through his ornamental robes.
Instead, they focused on the evidence that placed Cardinal Pell at the front of the cathedral for at least 10 minutes after Sunday Masses in December 1996.
They pointed to the fact Cardinal Pell was in the company of Monsignor Charles Portelli when he returned to the priest’s sacristy to remove his vestments and there was continuous traffic in and out of the sacristy for up to 10 minutes after the altar servers completed their bows to the crucifix.
A fifth conviction relating to a second alleged incident, in which the surviving choirboy claimed he was molested by Cardinal Pell in a corridor, was also quashed.
The assumption that a group of choristers, including adults, would fail to notice the Archbishop in full regalia pin a 13-year-old boy to a wall ‘is a large one’, they said.
‘The capacity of the evidence to support the verdict on this charge suffers from the same deficiency as the evidence of the assaults involved in the first incident,’ the judges concluded.