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Australia appellate court upholds sex conviction for Pell

By Clyde Hughes
Convicted Australian Cardinal George Pell speaks to reporters in 2017. An appellate court on Wednesday refused an appeal of his conviction late last year. File Photo by Massimo Percossi/EPA
Convicted Australian Cardinal George Pell speaks to reporters in 2017. An appellate court on Wednesday refused an appeal of his conviction late last year. File Photo by Massimo Percossi/EPA

Aug. 21 (UPI) -- An Australian court rejected an appeal Wednesday for Catholic Cardinal George Pell, the highest-ranking member of the church to be convicted of a sex crime.

Two of three Victoria appellate judges rejected Pell's argument that the jury verdict last year was unreasonable, and all three refused the claim of legal errors at trial.

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Pell's attorneys said they will "thoroughly examine" the ruling and appeal to Australia's High Court.

Pell, the former Vatican treasurer and adviser to Pope Francis, was sentenced in March to six years for sexually abusing two choirboys in the 1990s. A Melbourne jury found him guilty on a charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 years of age and four counts of committing an indecent act on children.

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Pell, who was bestowed a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2005, will keep the honor at least through the appeals process -- but it will almost certainly be stripped if the high court rules against him.

"My understanding is that this would result in the stripping of the honors that are decided externally to the government, that is a process that is done independently and that of course will now follow," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

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"The criminal process has been stressful," one victim said through an attorney. "There are a lot of checks and balances in the criminal justice process and the appeals process is just one of them. I just hope that it is all over now."

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The Vatican said it supports the victims and acknowledged Pell's right to appeal.

"As the proceedings continue to develop, the Holy See recalls that the Cardinal has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court," it said.

"At this time, together with the Church in Australia, the Holy See confirms its closeness to the victims of sexual abuse and its commitment to pursue, through the competent ecclesiastical authorities, those members of the clergy who commit such abuse."

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