By Andrea Picciotti-Bayer

The presumption of innocence and the legal standard of “guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” are based on a bedrock commitment to safeguard an innocent man’s liberty – and, sometimes, his life. This foundational principle of Anglo-Saxon criminal law had been, it seems, all but lost in the tragic case against Australia’s Cardinal George Pell. That is, until the country’s high court set things right again.

In a unanimous opinion earlier this month, Australia’s highest court overturned the convictions of Cardinal Pell for molesting two choirboys in the Cathedral of Melbourne some 20 years ago. The 78-year-old prelate (and former Vatican finance minister) had already served more than a year of his six-year prison sentence before being released just days before Easter.

The accusations – that Pell forced oral sex on a chorister in the sacristy of the packed Cathedral after Sunday mass (and tried to do so with another boy) and then fondled him weeks later – were sordid, sensational, and fantastical from the get-go. How could Pell possibly have had time to so egregiously abuse two boys in the ecclesiastical equivalent of Grand Central Station? The accusations were, according to the high court, unsupported as a matter of law. “[T]here is a significant possibility…” the court wrote, “that an innocent person has been convicted.”

Read the rest here.