Australia's highest court has acquitted former Vatican treasurer George Pell of sexually assaulting two teenage choirboys in the 1990s, allowing the 78-year-old cardinal to walk free from jail.

Here is a timeline of the rise, fall and acquittal of Cardinal George Pell:

Born in 1941, Pell grew up in rural Australia and, inspired by his devout Catholic mother, chose a life in the church.

He was ordained into the priesthood in 1966 and became parish priest in his home town of Ballarat in 1972.

Pell was named auxiliary bishop of Melbourne in 1987 and was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, the post he held when the alleged sex abuse of two choirboys occurred.

He was named Archbishop of Sydney in 2001 and was appointed a cardinal by Pope John Paul II in 2003, taking part in the election of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 and of Pope Francis in 2013.

George Pell pictured with Pope Benedict in 2006

Investigations begin 
March 2013: Police set up a secret taskforce to investigate allegations of child sex abuse concerning Pell. The probe is only revealed during court hearings in 2018.

March and August 2013: Pell gives evidence on two occasions to an Australian Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sex abuse allegations against the Catholic Church.

December 2015: Police appeal for information on alleged child sex abuse in Melbourne between 1996-2001, the period when Pell served as Archbishop.

February to March 2016: Pell called again to testify before Royal Commission, via video link.

October 2016: Pell interviewed by Victoria state police in Rome over sex abuse claims.

June 29, 2017: Pell charged with multiple child sex offences.

Pell in court
July 2017: Pell makes first court appearance and judge issues a gag order on reporting of the case except that there are "multiple complainants" and "multiple charges" for "historical sexual offences".

George Pell at the Vatican on 29 June 2017 after being charged with historical sex offences

March 2018: Four weeks of committal hearings involving closed-door witness statements in Melbourne.

May 1, 2018: Pell ordered to stand in two trials involving separate allegations and locations. The court suppression order is expanded to reporting of all court proceedings of the first trial in Australia to protect against jury bias in the second trial.

August 15, 2018: First trial begins with Pell facing five charges related to sexual abuse of two choirboys at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in the late 1990s.

September 20, 2018: Jury discharged without verdict in the first trial. A retrial is ordered.

November 7, 2018: Retrial of the first case starts.

Found guilty

December 11, 2018: Pell found guilty on all five charges: one of sexual penetration of a child under 16 years and four of indecent acts with a child under 16.

December 12, 2018: Pell is removed from the Vatican's so-called C9 Council of Cardinals, an international advisory body set up by Pope Francis.

February 26, 2019: Prosecutors drop plans for a second trial for alleged sexual offences at a Ballarat swimming pool in the 1970s, allowing the reporting of the first trial and verdict.

February 27, 2019: The Vatican drops Pell as its finance chief and says it will launch an internal probe into the child sex abuse charges, though later says this will not begin until after all legal avenues are exhausted.

March 13, 2019: Pell is sentenced to six years in prison for sexually abusing the two choirboys in 1996-1997. Pell appeals the conviction.

Protester celebrates conviction of George Pell in August 2019

June 5-6, 2019: Pell's appeal is heard by a three-judge panel of Victoria state's Supreme Court.

August 21, 2019: Pell's appeal is dismissed in a 2-1 decision, with one judge strongly dissenting.

September 17, 2019: Pell lodges new appeal with Australia's High Court, the country's top court.

March 11-12, 2020: The full bench of the High Court convenes to hear the appeal.

April 7, 2020: Seven-member panel of High Court unanimously quashes Pell's convictions and the cleric leaves his prison in rural Victoria after just over a year behind bars.

George Pell leaves prison in Victoria, Australia