ROME — Pope Francis compared those unjustly condemned to Jesus in his Passion, coinciding with the Australian High Court’s unanimous decision to acquit Cardinal George Pell of charges of abuse.
The pontiff specifically mentioned as the motive behind such unjust sentences that “someone had it in for them.”
“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,” the pope tweeted Tuesday. “Let us pray together today for all those persons who suffer due to an unjust sentence because of someone had it in for them.”
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. 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 (@Pontifex) April 7, 2020
By a vote of 7-0, Australia’s highest court ruled favorably in Pell’s appeal Tuesday, noting that there was “a significant possibility that an innocent person has been convicted because the evidence did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof.”
“The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant’s guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place,” wrote Chief Justice Susan Kiefel.
In December 2018, a lower court convicted Cardinal Pell of having sexually abused two altar servers while he was Archbishop of Melbourne in the late 1990s, following an earlier mistrial in which a jury was deadlocked at 10-2 in favor of declaring the cardinal “not guilty.”
A number of witnesses stepped forward to denounce the guilty verdict handed down against Pell in what they described as the mock trial of an innocent man.
As a result, the 78-year-old prelate spent 405 days in jail before finally being acquitted.
Commenting on the High Court’s verdict, Catholic intellectual George Weigel suggested that further investigation is needed into how such a travesty of justice could take place.
The High Court’s decision to acquit Cardinal Pell and free him is thus both just and welcome. The question of how any of this could have happened in the first place remains to be adjudicated, however. And it is imperative for the future of the Australian criminal justice system, and indeed for the future of Australian democracy, that a serious examination of conscience followed by a serious public reckoning take place.