As Pell gives first interview, Pope Francis prays for those unjustly sentenced

Cardinal George Pell has told the Catholic News Agency that while he kept faith in prison that he would be exonerated eventually, he tried not to get “too optimistic”.

The newly released cleric, who was acquitted of all charges of sexual abuse in Australia’s High Court yesterday, said he learned of the decision when watching the news in his cell.

“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,” Pell told CNA.

“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 more than 400 days in prison Pell said he considered his time behind bars as a “a long retreat”, but that he was now looking forward to celebrating a private Mass for the first time in over a year.

“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.”

He also thanked those people who sent him letters and cards during his time in HM Prison Barwon, southwest of Melbourne, saying it was “quite overwhelming”.

Meanwhile, Pope Francis has prayed at Mass in Rome “for all the people who suffer an unjust sentence because of aggressive persistence [against them].”

Although the pontiff did not mention Pell by name, he did compare the suffering of those who are unfairly condemned with the suffering of Jesus, whose persecutors showed “obstinacy and rage even though he was innocent”.

The pope also later tweeted this message:

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