Australia's High Court has agreed to hear Cardinal George Pell's appeal to overturn his convictions of sexually abusing minors. Photo by Massimo Percossi/EPA
Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Australia's High Court has agreed to hear an appeal from disgraced Cardinal and former papal advisor George Pell who was convicted last year of sexually abusing minors.
The High Court of Australia made its decision on Wednesday, referring Pell's case to a full court to hear his appeal.
Pell, once the third most powerful member of the Catholic Church, was found guilty in December by a Melbourne court of sexually abusing two choirboys in the 1990s while he was the Archbishop of Melbourne. In March, he was sentenced to six years in prison.
His attorneys in September applied for the High Court to hear his appeal and for special leave, claiming that the judges had wrongly placed the burden to prove his innocence on their client and that the verdict was unreasonable.
SNAP, a network of sexual abuse survivors, said the decision was "a blow" to victims of clergy sexual abuse.
"We are disappointed that Cardinal George Pell and his lawyers will have yet another opportunity to attack and re-victimize the former choirboy from St. Patrick's cathedral," SNAP said in a statement.
The survivors' network said that this decision works against future victims of sexual abuse from coming forward.
"May the High Court weigh all the matters before them in the appeal by Cardinal Pell and guarantee the integrity of the Australian legal system," the group said.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said while it trusts the Australian justice system it is aware that Pell has always maintained his innocence.
"At this time, the Holy See reaffirms once again its closeness to those who have suffered because of sexual abuse on the part of the clergy," Bruni said in a statement.
Archbishop Mark Coleridge, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said in a statement that his organization hopes the appeal can be heard soon so the High Court's judgment will bring "clarity and a resolution for all."
"All Australians have the right to appeal a conviction to the High Court," Coleridge said. "Cardinal George Pell has exercised that right and the High Court has determined that his conviction warrants its consideration."