Australian Cardinal George Pell will immediately be released from prison after the High Court determined his child sexual abuse convictions should be quashed.

The most senior Catholic in the world to be convicted of child sexual abuse today learnt his final appeal bid to the High Court had been a success.

The full bench of seven judges were unanimous in their decision.

The judgment was handed down at 10am local time in Brisbane with just three people reportedly sitting in the public gallery and four standing by the door to hear Chief Justice Susan Kiefel AC say Pell would be let free.


Pell, 78, was convicted in December 2018 of raping a 13-year-old choirboy and molesting his friend after a Sunday Mass at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in 1996.

He has maintained his innocence since being confronted with the allegations by Victoria Police in Rome four years ago, but a jury of 12 and Victoria's Court of Appeal ruled otherwise.

Pell's lawyers argued the jury was wrong and the appeal court majority made a mistake.

The appeal bid was based on two grounds – firstly that Chief Justice Ann Ferguson and President Chris Maxwell made an error in requiring Pell to prove the offending was "impossible" in order to raise reasonable doubt. Secondly, his lawyers argued the judges erred in concluding the guilty verdicts were not unreasonable, because of findings there was reasonable doubt as to his guilt.

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"Today, the High Court granted special leave to appeal against a decision of the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria and unanimously allowed the appeal," the Pell v The Queen 2020 judgment states.

"The High Court found that the jury, acting rationally on the whole of the evidence, ought to have entertained a doubt as to the applicant's guilt with respect to each of the offences for which he was convicted, and ordered that the convictions be quashed and that verdicts of acquittal be entered in their place."

Pell has spent more than 400 days behind bars since being taken into custody last February.