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MELBOURNE, Australia — Australia’s highest court on Tuesday overturned the conviction of Cardinal George Pell, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic leader ever found guilty of sexually abusing children.
Cardinal Pell, who was the Vatican’s chief financial officer and an adviser to Pope Francis, was sentenced to six years in prison last March for molesting two boys after Sunday Mass in 1996.
The cardinal was convicted on five counts, making him the first bishop to be found guilty in a criminal court for sexually abusing minors, according to BishopAccountability.org, which tracks cases of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy.
The sentence, which fell far short of the 50-year maximum, was closely scrutinized, but held up on its initial appeal.
In its judgment on Tuesday, the High Court found that for all five charges, there were many improbabilities that had not been fully considered by the jury. There is “a significant possibility,” the judges wrote, “that an innocent person has been convicted.”