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Pope Francis has recalled the “persecution that Jesus suffered” and has prayed for those who suffer “unjust sentences” hours after Cardinal George Pell was acquitted of child sexual abuse charges.

Australia’s highest court quashed convictions that Pell sexually assaulted two choirboys in the 1990s, which allowed the 78-year-old former Vatican economy minister to walk free from jail.

At the start of the mass, Pope Francis said: “I would like to pray today for all those people who suffer unjust sentences resulting from intransigence [against them].”

Francis did not mention Pell by name at mass, but compared the suffering of those inflicted with “unjust sentences” to the way Jewish community elders persecuted Jesus with “obstinacy and rage even though he was innocent.”

He also tweeted about the persecution of Jesus, without making specific reference to Pell.

“In these days of Lent, we’ve been witnessing the persecution that Jesus underwent and how He was judged ferociously, even though He was innocent.

“Let us pray together today for all those persons who suffer due to an unjust sentence because someone had it in for them.”

The Vatican also welcomed the acquittal, praising Pell in its first official statement for “having waited for the truth to be ascertained”.

The Vatican said last year that it would wait for the judicial process to be exhausted before taking any further action.

Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of advocacy group BishopAccountantability.org, said the court’s decision had been widely expected.

“Though distressing to many survivors, the decision doesn’t change the fact that the trial of the powerful cardinal was a watershed,” she said.

“Yet that is where all of these cases belong. While messy and painful, a judicial process in a democratic society is immeasurably better than that of a Vatican tribunal, which keeps its proceedings secret,” she added.

This article originally appeared on Over60.

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