The Vatican said today it has the "utmost respect" for the justice system following the "painful news" of the conviction of Australian Cardinal George Pell for child sex crimes.
"We reiterate the utmost respect for Australian judicial authorities. In the name of this respect, we now await the outcome of the appeal process," Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said, reading out a prepared statement.
Pell, one of Pope Francis' closest advisers, has been found guilty of sexually assaulting two choirboys, becoming the most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sex crimes.
An Australian jury unanimously found Pell guilty in December on one count of sexual abuse and four counts of indecent assault against two boys at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s.
A wide-ranging suppression order from the presiding judge had prevented the media from reporting even the existence of court proceedings, but the order was lifted on Tuesday.
"It is painful news that, we are well aware, has shocked many people, not just in Australia," the Vatican statement said.
"Cardinal Pell has reaffirmed his innocence and has the right to defend himself to the last degree."
"As we await the definitive verdict, we join the Australian bishops in praying for all victims of abuse, reaffirming our commitment to do everything possible so that the Church is a safe home for everyone, especially for children," it said.
On the order of Pope Francis, the "precautionary measures" already in place against Pell still stand: he is "forbidden to exercise the public exercise of the ministry and have any contact in any form with minors".
Just what the Vatican will do now about the conviction of the most senior Catholic cleric ever charged with child sex abuse is the next question many are asking.
However News Corp reported Pell's position within the Vatican has "expired" already, which means Pope Francis won't have to sack him.
"Pell's five-year-term as Prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy — that made him the third most powerful man in the Vatican and therefore the highest Catholic to ever come unstuck for child sex abuse — officially expired over the weekend, removing the potentially difficult decision for Pope Francis on whether to sack or stand him down before or after the outcome of the cardinal's court appeal," News Corp writer Charles Miranda said.
It was a question similarly posed in the lead-up to Cardinal George Pell's guilty verdict being made public on Tuesday, at last week's Vatican summit on clergy sexual abuse in Rome.
How to deal with bishops' abuse or negligence was one of the biggest problems facing the summit, and many weren't happy with the result.
Yesterday's public verdict, which had been known about internationally since December, is yet another major blow to the Catholic Church, one of the world's most powerful institutions.
The church has been grappling with mounting child sex abuse scandals across the globe, with Pope Francis facing backlash over his handing of cases.
The blow to the Catholic hierarchy's credibility after a year of revelations and cover-ups had made the Pope's top financial adviser and the Vatican's economy minister's future in the church unclear.
Catholics in the United States had also been awaiting what the Vatican would do after two one-time archbishops of Washington, D.C., who are among the country's most prominent examples, were felled in recent months amid the crisis.
Now attention has turned to Australia and what will happen to the Vatican's third-highest ranking member.
If what Pope Francis said at the end of the summit is anything to go by, Cardinal Pell could be in for serious action.
In his closing address to the almost 200 church leaders, Pope Francis called for an "all-out battle" against a crime that should be "erased from the face of the Earth", saying guidelines on preventing and punishing abuse would be strengthened.
"Here I would reaffirm that the church will spare no effort to do all that is necessary to bring to justice whosoever has committed such crimes," he said.
However, he also called on government authorities to act with urgency to combat the trafficking and economic exploitation of children.
Cardinal Pell previously stated he wanted to return to Rome to continue his work once he had cleared his name.
Last year Pope Francis expelled Cardinal Pell and Cardinal Francisco Javier Errázuriz of Chile from a Vatican advisory group, with Errázuriz accused of covering up cases for abusive priests.
The Pope can remove Pell from the College of Cardinals - as was the case with American cardinal Theodore McCarrick - but many think he will wait until an appeal is over before taking action.
Pope Francis stripped McCarrick of his cardinal's title and rank after allegations of sexual abuse of a teenage boy and other adults.
At the summit the focus had been on calls for lower ranked clergymen to be appropriately dealt with.
In the US, while there is a system in place for investigating accusations against priests, there isn't a decent one for dealing with accusations against bishops.
In Canon law only the pope can judge a bishop, but having more than 5000 bishops across the world makes that an impossible task.
As for cardinals, the 223 members of their college are usually appointed for life.
On Friday Chicago Cardinal Blase Cupich called for clear procedures that could justify the removal of a bishop.
"I think that people are understandably cautious about us," he said.
"There is a mistrust that's in the hearts of a lot of our people, and I do understand that that's why we have to work hard to make sure we are going to be true to our word."
Ed Pentin, the Rome correspondent for the National Catholic Register, told The Sydney Morning Herald it was hard to predict the Vatican's reaction to Pell because it was unprecedented in the modern history of the church.
"Most here believe Pell is innocent, certainly those who worked with him," he said, noting at least 90 per cent already knew about the December verdict.
He said because of Pell's unpopularity in parts of the Vatican, some believed his charges were part of a conspiracy against Pell for trying to move away from the "old guard's" system of running finances.
Pell was tasked with investigating Vatican corruption, and Pentin said he had been uncovering "quite serious corruption".
Pentin said Francis was more likely move to quickly install a new head of the Secretariat.
There had been campaigning by some victim's group for the summit to address changing canon law so all abusers and those who covered it up could be kicked out of the clergy.
While that did not happen, senior members thought there could be a change in rules on bishops' responsibility.
Following the summit a journalist who investigated priest sex abuse said he was sceptical the church could change.
Italian journalist Marco Tosatti told WGN9 the Pope himself should have gotten involved sooner.
In the mass to end the event, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane said the Australian Catholic Church had been its "own worst enemy".
He said the church here had been "weak" in providing pastoral care to survivors, referring to "the need to listen to survivors, but not just listen – to walk with them".
He cited the need for transparency, accountability and inclusiveness, saying the summit would lead to practical measures in dealing with abuse.
"Whether bishops were abusers or have been derelict in dealing with abuse, there has to be an effective and practical way to deal with that," he said.
"At times, however, we have seen victims and survivors as the enemy, but we have not loved them, we have not blessed them. In that sense, we have been our own worst enemy."
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Coleridge said there was no place in the church for abusers.
"It's very clear now ... that anyone in the Catholic Church in any part of the world who thinks that he or she can get away with sexual abuse of the young and vulnerable, has absolutely nowhere to go," he said.
The Australian reaction
In Australia the backlash here has been swift, with organisations connected to Pell removing any association despite any appeal.
A spokesman for the Melbourne Archdiocese says it is yet to discuss whether it will reconsider the Melbourne Response, the protocol for dealing with abuse cases created by Pell while he was archbishop.
Pell has been stripped of an honorary position at Richmond Football Club just hours after his conviction for child sex abuse was made public.
The club removed the cardinal as club vice-patron after his guilty verdict was revealed on Tuesday. It was a largely symbolic role which he has held since 1997.
"While acknowledging his right to appeal, the club has formed a view that his association is no longer tenable or appropriate," the Richmond Football Club said in a statement.
Pell's relationship with the club stretches back to 1959 when he signed as a ruckman, playing for the reserves side before entering the priesthood. He went on to become archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney before joining the Vatican.
Meanwhile, St Patrick's College in Ballarat has removed Pell's name off a building which had been named in his honour.
Pell attended the boarding school from 1949 to 1959 and was later inducted a "legend of the school".
Headmaster John Crowley acknowledged Cardinal Pell may appeal the verdict, but said the college must respond to the jury's findings as they currently stand.
"The jury's verdict demonstrates that Cardinal Pell's behaviours have not met the standards we expect of those we honour as role models for the young men we educate," Crowley said.
Pell Wing will be renamed Waterford Wing, while a line will be struck through his name on a college honour board.
An online petition calling for the Council for the Order of Australia to strip Pell of honours has also garnered more than 500 signatures in less than 24 hours.
Pell was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001 and appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia in 2005.
"Pell must now be stripped of his Companion of the Order of Australia a la Rolf Harris," Senator Derryn Hinch said on Tuesday, citing the decision to strip Harris of his honours in 2015, eight months after being convicted of indecently assaulting four girls in the UK.
- With wires