Seven of Australia's top legal minds have ruled the jury which convicted Cardinal George Pell should have found there was reasonable doubt about the sexual abuse charges he faced.
In a unanimous decision, the High Court on Tuesday overturned Cardinal Pell's conviction for sexually abusing two choirboys.
The majority of Victoria's Court of Appeal also upheld the guilty verdict last year.
But Australia's highest court said while the jury found the surviving complainant to be credible and reliable as a witness, the evidence as a whole wasn't sufficient to exclude reasonable doubt as to Cardinal Pell's guilt.
Cardinal Pell's legal team, led by appeals specialist Bret Walker SC, based the High Court appeal on two grounds.
They argued that Chief Justice Ann Ferguson and President Chris Maxwell, sitting in the Court of Appeal, made an error in requiring Cardinal Pell to prove the offending after mass at Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral in 1996 was impossible in order to raise reasonable doubt.
Secondly, they said the judges erred in concluding the guilty verdicts were not unreasonable because of findings there was reasonable doubt as to his guilt.
The High Court found there was a powerful body of evidence pointing to the fact Cardinal Pell's tradition of meeting parishioners on the steps of the cathedral after mass went for at least 10 minutes.
Six witnesses told the cardinal's County Court trial they were a regular occurrence and were often still going after choristers had changed out of their robes.
The High Court also pointed to evidence that teachings requiring an Archbishop to be accompanied from the moment he enters a church were always followed.
"The Court of Appeal majority took into account the evidence of four witnesses in concluding not only that it was possible that the applicant was alone and robed in contravention of centuries-old church law, but that the evidence of witnesses to the contrary did not raise reasonable doubt as to the applicant's guilt," they said.
The judges focused on the timing of the alleged assaults in combination with evidence of there being a hive of activity in and around the priest's sacristy immediately after mass.
The Court of Appeal found it was quite possible that the two boys had broken away from the post-mass procession and found their way to the priest's sacristy.
But the High Court put that possibility to one side, saying it was an "oddity" that they would not encounter any priests in the sacristy corridor or sacristy.
Cardinal Pell's conviction over a second incident was also quashed.
The complainant alleged he was pushed against a wall by then-Archbishop Pell and molested.
The evidence of Cardinal Pell's meet and greets and him being accompanied while robed should have again caused a rational jury to entertain a doubt about Cardinal Pell's guilt, the judgment said.
Australian Associated Press