On Monday, Cardinal George Pell was acquitted of all charges and declared an innocent man by the High Court of Australia. Following his release after serving 405 days in a prison, he gave an exclusive interview on his experience watching the court hand decision in his cell, saying while he had high hopes for his appeal, he tried not to be “too optimistic.”

“I was watching the television news in my cell when the news came through. First, I heard that leave was granted and then that the convictions were quashed. I thought, ‘Well that’s great. I’m delighted.’ Of course, there was no one to talk to about it until my legal team arrived However, I did hear a great cheer from somewhere within the jail and then the three other inmates near me made it clear they were delighted for me.”

After his release from prison, he went to a monastery in Melbourne and enjoyed steak and wine for his first “free” meal. He said he viewed his 405 days in prison as a “long retreat” full of reflection, writing, and prayer.

“Prayer has been the great source of strength to me throughout these times, including the prayers of others, and I am incredibly grateful to all those people who have prayed for me and helped me during this really challenging time. What I am really looking forward to is celebrating a private Mass. It has been a very long time, so that is a great blessing.”

He said outpouring of support from people all over the world has been “quite overwhelming,” and that “I really do want to thank them most sincerely” for all the letters and cards he has received.

Following his acquittal, the Holy See issued a statement welcoming the news.

“The Holy See, which has always expressed confidence in the Australian judicial authority, welcomes the High Court’s unanimous decision concerning Cardinal George Pell, acquitting him of the accusations of abuse of minors and overturning his sentence.

Entrusting his case to the court’s justice, Cardinal Pell has always maintained his innocence, and has waited for the truth to be ascertained.

At the same time, the Holy See reaffirms its commitment to preventing and pursuing all cases of abuse against minors.”

In his Mass celebrated the day after Pell’s acquittal, Pope Francis prayed for all those persecuted with an unjust sentence, in reference to Pell’s release. While not mentioning Pell by name, Pope Francis said:

“I would like to pray today for all the people who suffer an unjust sentence because of aggressive persistence against them.”

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