Former Maryborough priest Father Paul Kelly. Photo by Richard Gosling
Former Maryborough priest Father Paul Kelly. Photo by Richard Gosling

‘No winners’: Outspoken priest shares views on Pell decision

NO WINNERS will emerge from the High Court's decision to overturn Cardinal George Pell's conviction on child sex abuse charges.

In the end, there was enough reasonable doubt to set him free.

That is the opinion of outspoken former Maryborough Catholic priest Father Paul Kelly, who believes Cardinal Pell will live with doubt hanging over his innocence for the rest of his life.

He said he also felt for the victims of child sexual abuse in society, who would be struggling with the outcome of the case.

After more than 400 days behind bars, Cardinal Pell was set to walk free from prison on Tuesday.

Speaking to the Chronicle after Pell was convicted in March last year, Fr Kelly said he had struggled to imagine a scenario in which the alleged offending could have taken place.

There were no corroborating witnesses to the alleged offences, which happened in December 1996, and they were alleged to have happened after a Sunday solemn mass.

Pell, then the archbishop of Melbourne, was found guilty of assaulting two 13-year-old choirboys after the service.

At the time, Fr Kelly said anyone who had ever been involved in a full church service would know how difficult it was to get near a bishop after the mass.

"They are never alone," he said.

"There are many people around them wanting to talk to them.

"It surprises me, the circumstances boggle my mind - but I wasn't there."

Fr Kelly has a law degree and said he felt the burden of proof against Cardinal Pell had never been met.

"I don't profess to be an expert," he said.

"But you can't look into human hearts or read minds and the system is about balancing rights and responsibilities.

"One must respect the decision of the law.

"When it went against him, we had to respect that, now again, people may be unhappy with the decision, but they must respect the process and rule of law."

Fr Kelly said he feared emotion had played a part in convicting Cardinal Pell.

"Any innocent person could be convicted, that's the kind of standard that seemed to be being applied," he said.

Fr Kelly said his heart went out to anyone who had been abused.

"No one is saying the people who accused him are liars," he said.

"I'm just saying the law as it stands cannot find enough certainty to be able to convict.

"There are no winners."

He said his great hope was that in the future the church would be seen as a place where victims were compassionately dealt with when they said they had been harmed.

"The church should be a protector of injured people, not a perpetrator or protector of abusers," he said.