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Çathedral vandalised after Pell set free by High Court decision

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Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral has been vandalised following Cardinal George Pell’s acquittal of child sexual abuse convictions

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“Rot in Hell Pell” was emblazoned on the doors of the cathedral at the centre of allegations the cardinal abused two choirboys in the 1990s.

The High Court ruled on Tuesday there was insufficient evidence to convict Cardinal Pell, quashing five convictions. He was freed from prison within hours.

Overnight the words “the law protects the powerful” were spray-painted on the cathedral forecourt.

Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli said he wasn’t surprised by the vandalism.

“There’s such strong emotions around all of these matters,” he told Melbourne’s 3AW radio on Wednesday

He said he hoped people would consider the High Court judgment and see the decision in its legal context, but expects people will keep their original positions about the cardinal.

Cardinal Pell, 78, awoke at Melbourne’s Carmelite Monastery on Wednesday a free man for the first time in more than a year.

His release comes in a significant week in the Christian calendar – Holy Week, which marks the end of Lent and the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday.

The spread of the coronavirus means he cannot celebrate Easter with any congregation and any thoughts of a quick return to Rome have been scuppered by international travel bans.

The cardinal’s previous position as Vatican Treasurer was filled in his absence, putting him effectively in retirement.

Cardinal Pell’s former private secretary Father Mark Withoos told Sydney’s 2GB radio the cardinal had kept his faith and called for privacy.

He added if it weren’t for the coronavirus crisis “perhaps those involved in this terrible miscarriage of justice would be forced to resign”.

“Can I ask all people of goodwill to respect the decision and leave this poor man alone?”

Premier Daniel Andrews has refused to comment on the High Court’s decision, but on Wednesday said people, particularly those of Catholic faith, had to face up to the fact there are people who moved predators across parishes.

“Others who knew that it was going on facilitated it and whether they’re in jail or not, they’ll have to go to their maker knowing they did those sorts of things,” he told radio station Triple M.

Cardinal Pell is yet to speak publicly but released a statement saying a serious injustice had been remedied and he bears no ill will toward his accuser.

The accuser, now a man in his 30s, came forward after the death of the second choirboys in 2014.

“I respect the decision of the High Court. I accept the outcome,” he said in a statement.

He also hopes the outcome won’t discourage child sexual abuse survivors from coming forward, reassuring them “most people recognise the truth when they hear it”.

The Vatican welcomed Cardinal Pell’s acquittal, praising him for waiting “for the truth to be ascertained”.

Pope Francis offered his Tuesday morning mass for those who suffer from unjust sentences, though he did not mention Cardinal Pell by name.

“I would like to pray today for all those people who suffer unjust sentences resulting from intransigence (against them),” the Pope said, speaking before the start of the mass.

The court’s ruling quashed convictions that Cardinal George Pell sexually assaulted the two choir boys in the 1990s.

It allowed the 78-year-old to walk free from jail, ending the case of the most senior figure accused in the global scandal of historical sex abuse that has rocked the Roman Catholic Church.

“I would like to pray today for all those people who suffer unjust sentences resulting from intransigence,” Francis said, speaking before the start of the Mass.

Francis did not mention Pell, the cardinal who was put in charge of Vatican finances by Francis in 2014, by name.

But Francis compared the suffering of those inflicted with unjust sentences today to the persecution of Jesus by Jewish community elders, with “obstinacy and rage even though he was innocent”.

The pope chooses an intention for Mass each day before leading the service in his residence.

In recent weeks, the pope’s intentions for nearly all of his daily Masses have been related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pell had remained a cardinal but lost his treasurer role in the run-up to becoming the highest-ranked Catholic official worldwide to be jailed for child sex offences.

He was serving a six-year sentence on one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four charges of an indecent act with a child under 16, which the plaintiff said took place when Pell was archbishop of the city of Melbourne.

The seven judges of the High Court agreed unanimously that the jury in the cardinal’s trial “ought to have entertained a doubt” about his guilt, ordering his conviction be quashed.

“I hold no ill will toward my accuser, I do not want my acquittal to add to the hurt and bitterness so many feel; there is certainly hurt and bitterness enough,” Pell said in a statement shortly before he was driven away from the maximum-security Barwon Prison near Melbourne.

The Vatican welcomed the Australian court’s ruling, praising Pell for having “waited for the truth to be ascertained”.

A statement said the Vatican had always had confidence in Australian judicial authorities and reaffirmed the Holy See’s “commitment to preventing and pursuing all cases of abuse against minors”.

It noted that Pell had always maintained his innocence.

An investigation of Pell by the Vatican was mooted at the time of his conviction but never formally begun.

Francis appointed Pell to overhaul the Vatican’s vast finances in 2014.

At 78, three years past the age at which bishops and Vatican officials normally hand in their resignation, Pell is not expected to return to a Holy See job.

Pell had been on a leave of absence from the post, whose formal title is Prefect for the Secretariat of the Economy, since 2017.

Last year, the pope named a successor, Spanish Jesuit priest Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves.

– AAP

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