Australian Court Upholds Sex Abuse Verdicts Against Cardinal Pell The former archbishop of Sydney and high-ranking Vatican official was sentenced in March to six years in prison for abusing two 13-year-old choirboys in the 1990s.
NPR logo Australian Court Upholds Sex Abuse Verdicts Against Cardinal Pell

Australian Court Upholds Sex Abuse Verdicts Against Cardinal Pell

Cardinal George Pell arrives at the Victorian County Court in Melbourne, Victoria, in February. Pell's appeal of verdicts on sexual abuse charges was rejected on Wednesday. Newspix/Newspix via Getty Images hide caption

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Newspix/Newspix via Getty Images

An Australian state appellate court on Wednesday upheld lower-court verdicts against Cardinal George Pell, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic cleric to be found guilty of sexual abuse.

In a 2-1 ruling, the Court of Appeal of Victoria state rejected Pell's request to overturn his December conviction. The 78-year-old prelate, a former archbishop of Sydney who later became a top Vatican adviser, is serving a six-year prison sentence for sexually abusing two 13-year-old choirboys.

The abuse occurred in the 1990s after Pell became archbishop of Melbourne. He was found guilty of orally raping one boy and sexually molesting another.

One of the victims died of a heroin overdose in 2014 and never reported the abuse. The prosecution's case rested on the testimony of the other, who reported the abuse to police in 2015.

Chief Justice Anne Ferguson told the court that she and Chris Maxwell, president of the Court of Appeal, had dismissed Pell's appeal, according to The Sydney Morning Herald.

She said Pell's accuser was "clearly not a liar."

"Throughout his evidence the complainant came across as someone who was telling the truth," she said.

Pell, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence, reportedly showed no emotion as the appeal decision was read.

"Cardinal Pell is obviously disappointed with the decision today," a statement from Pell's spokeswoman, Katrina Lee, said.

Pell's lawyers plan to ask the High Court of Australia - the rough equivalent of the U.S. Supreme Court — to examine the decision and consider taking up a final appeal, the statement said.

A statement from the Vatican said that Pell "has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court."

The Holy See said it "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."

Pell, who was selected in 2014 by Pope Francis to run the Vatican's new economic ministry — in effect the Church's chief financial officer — is no longer a Vatican official and was removed from Francis' Council of Cardinals after his conviction in March.

The Vatican is conducting its own investigation of Pell.