Australia's highest court on Tuesday dismissed the convictions of the most senior Catholic found guilty of child sex crimes, the AP reports. Cardinal George Pell welcomed the news and said his trial had not been a referendum on the Catholic Church’s handling of the clergy sex abuse crisis. Pope Francis’ former finance minister, Pell had been the most senior Catholic found guilty of sexually abusing children and has spent 13 months in high-security prisons before seven High Court judges unanimously dismissed his convictions. The High Court found there was reasonable doubt surrounding the testimony of the witness, now the father of a young family aged in his 30s, that Pell had abused him and another 13-year-old choirboy at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in the late 1990s.
“I have consistently maintained my innocence while suffering from a serious injustice,” Pell said in his first public statement since he was convicted in December 2018. He released the statement before he was driven from the gates of Barwon Prison and past waiting media two hours after the verdict. Pell, 78, added: "I hold no ill will toward my accuser." Pell was regarded as the Vatican’s third-highest ranking official when he voluntarily returned to Melbourne in July 2017 determined to clear his name of dozens of decades-old child abuse allegations. All the charges were dropped by prosecutors or dismissed by courts in preliminary hearings over the years except the cathedral allegations. The complainant first went to police in 2015 after the second alleged victim died of a heroin overdose at the age of 31. Lawyers for the father of the dead man said the verdict left him “in utter disbelief.” (Read more Cardinal George Pell stories.)