Archbishop Fisher welcomes acquittal of Cardinal Pell

Fisher Briefing in Holy See Press about Synod Daniel Ibanez 2 Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney at a Vatican press conference Oct. 5, 2018. | Daniel Ibanez.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney has welcomed the acquittal of Cardinal George Pell by Australia's High Court.

Pell was freed from prison Tuesday after the High Court decided unanimously to overturn his conviction for child sex offenses.

Fisher, who succeeded Pell as Archbishop of Sydney in 2014, said in a statement April 7: "The cardinal has always maintained his innocence and today's decision confirms his conviction was wrong."

He continued: "I am pleased that the cardinal will now be released and I ask that the pursuit of him that brought us to this point now cease."

"This has not just been a trial of Cardinal Pell, but also of our legal system and culture. The cardinal's vindication today invites broader reflection on our system of justice, our commitment to the presumption of innocence, and our treatment of high-profile figures accused of crimes."

The archbishop acknowledged that clerical abuse had fueled anger at the Church. He said Catholic leaders could only restore trust by seeking justice for abuse survivors and safeguarding the vulnerable.

"Some will struggle with today's decision," he said. "Cases like these can reopen the wounds of survivors of abuse so that they feel like they are on trial too. But justice for victims is never served by the wrongful conviction and imprisonment of anyone. I hope and pray that the finality of the legal processes will bring some closure and healing to all affected."

Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne called for prayers for both Pell and his accuser, identified through the courts as "J". 

"I want to firstly acknowledge 'J', who brought forward his story of abuse for examination in the courts of law," he said in an April 7 statement. "This is a right we value and honor."

"I also acknowledge Cardinal Pell who has steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout. Rightly, he has been afforded the full possibilities of the judicial system. This decision means the cardinal has been wrongly convicted and imprisoned, and he is now free to live his life peaceably within the community."

Archbishop Comensoli said he would re-dedicate himself and his archdiocese to listening to abuse victims, protecting young people and encouraging faithful clergy.

"Let us pray for 'J' and his family; pray for Cardinal Pell and his family; pray and work for survivors of abuse; and build a Church that is centered on God's love for each person, with a special care and concern for the weakest, the most vulnerable, the most hurt," the archbishop said.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison was asked to comment on the High Court verdict while holding a press conference on the coronavirus. 

"The High Court, the highest court in the land, has made its decision and it must be respected," he said.

Daniel Andrews, the Premier of Victoria, the state in which Pell was tried, said he had no comment on the High Court's decision.

"But I have a message for every single victim and survivor of child sex abuse: 'I see you. I hear you. I believe you'," he said.  

Former prime minister Tony Abbott, who visited Pell in jail and supported him throughout his legal ordeal, said: "Today's just a day to let the High Court judgment speak for itself."

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Andrew Bolt, a Sky News host and columnist, described Pell's conviction in 2018 as "the greatest miscarriage of justice in Australian history."

Bolt, an outspoken critic of the case against Pell, said: "A lot of people today should be ashamed of their role in the persecution, the witch hunting and the jailing -- for 404 days -- of an innocent man."

He continued: "The charges were inherently implausible and yet they were believed. And voices that spoke against this conviction were hounded down. It is a disgrace."

He added: "There was a witch hunt in this country and we need to look at why that happened."

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