A FURNESS cleric said he had been 'proved right' after senior Australian Catholic Cardinal George Pell had his conviction for sexually abusing two boys overturned by the High Court.

Rev Nick Donnelly, deacon of the Our Lady of Furness parish, which incorporates St Mary’s Church on Duke Street, Barrow, received hate mail and even a death threat over the issue.

“Twitter can be a hateful place,” said Rev Donnelly. “It was somebody posting in Ballarat (Victoria, Australia), who basically said if I showed my face in Ballarat I’d get my noggin smashed in.”

However, Rev Donnelly, who lives in Barrow, believes his support has been vindicated by the release of Cardinal Pell after more than 400 days in prison, with a bench of seven judges unanimously ruling in the cleric’s favour.

The cardinal’s original appeal, it was determined, had 'failed to engage with the question of whether there remained a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place.'

And the Barrow reverend now says 'questions have to be asked' of bodies such as the Supreme Court of Victoria and Victoria Police.

“How did it happen? How did an innocent man get convicted?," he said.

“It’s not a campaign but I just draw attention using my social media that these individuals all have a case to answer. And the reason I think it’s important that we hold officials to account is so that it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

“An innocent man or innocent woman being imprisoned for one day is on outrage.

“Because of the nature of what he was convicted of he had to be in solitary confinement for his own protection.”

Rev Donnelly’s long-standing assertion that Cardinal Pell was innocent was borne out of a scepticism of the evidence which led to the conviction.

“My position is that child abuse is appalling but child abuse by clergy is even more appalling because of the position of trust they are in. So I think that complaints have to be taken seriously and looked into,” he said. “But when you actually look at the detail of the Cardinal Pell case, it didn’t make sense.”

Rev Donnelly said the window of time in which Cardinal Pell was supposed to have committed the acts was one in which he would not have had the opportunity to be alone with the alleged victims.

“Looking at the facts of the case, it just didn’t strike me as being a credible complaint,” he said. “I think Cardinal Pell - from what I have read and know about the church in Australia - I think he’s been the focus of a pretty vicious hate campaign for years and that’s been because he’s been very outspoken on issues of morality. He’s made enemies in Australian society and Australian culture.”