Australia

George Pell: Man who accused cardinal says 'case doesn't define me'

Cardinal Pell leaving a sentence hearing in Melbourne in February 2019 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Cardinal George Pell has been acquitted of child sexual abuse

The Australian man who accused Cardinal George Pell of child sexual abuse says he accepts a court's decision to overturn the cleric's conviction.

Cardinal Pell was freed from jail on Tuesday after Australia's top court ruled he had not been proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.

In 2018, a jury convicted him of abusing two choirboys in the 1990s. The cleric has maintained his innocence.

His accuser said he hoped the case would not "discourage" abuse survivors.

"It is difficult in child sex abuse matters to satisfy a criminal court that the offending has occurred beyond the shadow of a doubt," the man, known as Witness J, said in a statement on Wednesday.

He said he understood why criminal cases were held to this "very high standard", but added "the price we pay for weighting the system in favour of the accused is that many sexual offences against children go unpunished."

Cardinal Pell, 78, has said he holds "no ill will" towards his accuser, after serving 400 days in jail.

His case rocked the Catholic Church, where he had been one of the Pope's most senior advisers.

The Vatican said it welcomed the decision, adding that it was committed to preventing and pursuing all cases of abuse against minors.

'Most recognise truth'

Witness J, who cannot be identified, was the only witness to testify against Cardinal Pell in the trial in 2018. The other choir boy is no longer alive.

In his statement on Wednesday, Witness J urged any survivor of abuse to report their case to police if it was possible to do so.

"I would like to reassure child sexual abuse survivors that most people recognise truth when they hear it," he said, adding he had felt supported by police and prosecutors.

He said he was relieved that the long legal process was over.

"This case does not define me," he said. "I am a man doing my best to be a loving dad, partner, son, brother and friend. I am doing my best to find and hold joy in my life."

Following the ruling on Tuesday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he respected the court's decision and offered his thoughts to people who had suffered abuse.

Victoria's state premier, Daniel Andrews, said he had a message for survivors: "I see you. I hear you. I believe you."

Why the court freed Pell

Cardinal Pell's case had been one of the most high-profile criminal trials in recent Australian history.

After the jury's verdict was upheld by an appeals court last year, the cleric took his case to the High Court of Australia.

In his appeal to the High Court, Cardinal Pell argued that the jury's verdict had relied too heavily on Witness J's evidence. The cleric's lawyers didn't try to discredit that testimony, but argued that other evidence had not been properly considered.

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Media captionA religious historian explains why the court's ruling was 'not a surprise'

The seven judges reviewing the case ruled unanimously in the cardinal's favour.

Cardinal Pell said an injustice had been "remedied".

On Tuesday, just hours after the court upheld the appeal, Pope Francis offered his morning mass for those suffering from unjust sentences, although he did not mention the cardinal by name.

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