The Vatican has responded to the Court of Appeal's decision to deny George Pell's bid for freedom as Australia's highest ranking member of the Catholic Church failed to have his appeal against child sex convictions dismissed in court.

By a majority of two to one, Victoria's Supreme Court dismissed the appeal earlier today, ordering Pell to "return to prison".

"He will continue to serve his sentence of six years' imprisonment," Chief Justice Anne Ferguson said.

"He will remain eligible to apply for parole after he has served three years and eight months of the sentence."


In a statement this afternoon, the Vatican "reiterated its respect for the Australian judicial system" and acknowledged "the court's decision to dismiss Cardinal Pell's appeal", reports.

"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," the Vatican 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."

Earlier today, Pell sat and listened intently as Chief Justice Anne Ferguson read out her reasons for rejecting his appeal. The 78-year-old looked dejected as he hunched forward to hear his appeal be denied.

Head bowed, with his grey hair hanging loosely around his face, the cardinal was led out of the courtroom just before 10am to serve out the rest of his jail sentence.

Chief Justice Ferguson told the court the judges had found the complainant "believable", dismissed an animation created by Pell's legal team about the cathedral abuse as biased and slapped down Pell's argument that it was impossible for the abuse to have occurred.

Justice Weinberg did not side with Chief Justice Ferguson or Justice Maxwell, stating "there was significant and in some places impressive evidence suggesting that the complainant's account was, in a realistic sense, impossible to accept".

Despite this dissenting view, Pell's appeal was denied.


Cheers were heard from inside the courtroom as dozens of people outside, watching the appeal on the livestream, listened to the judges slap down Pell's appeal.

The 78-year-old's legal team are already looking at taking his appeal to the High Court, Australia's final arbiter and the cardinal's last attempt to have his convictions quashed.

His legal team confirmed this through a statement earlier today, saying Pell was "obviously disappointed with the decision".

"His legal team will thoroughly examine the judgement in order to determine a special leave application to the High Court," Pell's spokesman said, thanking his "many supporters" and maintaining his innocence.

Pell could now also be stripped of his Order of Australia award after losing the appeal against his child sex abuse conviction.

Cardinal George Pell leaves the Supreme Court in Melbourne, Australia. Photo / AP
Cardinal George Pell leaves the Supreme Court in Melbourne, Australia. Photo / AP

In a statement, Governor-General David Hurley said he was waiting to see Pell pursue all legal avenues.

"Appointments to the Order of Australia may be terminated and one of the grounds is conviction for a crime or offence under a law of the Commonwealth, State or Territory," the governor-general said.

"Once all legal proceedings have run their course, the Council for the Order of Australia may make a recommendation to me as Chancellor of the Order, which I will act on."

Pell shared the courtroom with the world's media, his own supporters and the family members of the two boys he was found guilty of sexually abusing in 1996.

Pell's entire family were in the courtroom, including his brother. Chrissie Foster, the mother of two Catholic Church sex abuse victims, was also inside.

Pell's main argument that he put to the three judges — Chief Justice Anne Ferguson, Court of Appeal president Justice Chris Maxwell and Justice Mark Weinberg — was that the abuse simply didn't happen, that it was impossible.

Chief Justice Ferguson denied that argument, telling the court the survivor was "clearly not a liar".

"Justice Maxwell and I accepted the prosecution's submission that the complainant was a compelling witness, was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth," Chief Justice Ferguson said.

"Throughout (the complainant's) evidence, the complainant came across as someone who was telling the truth. He did not seek to embellish his evidence or tailor it in a manner favourable to the prosecution."

She said the case of Pell had "divided the community" but the jury verdict from his original trial had been unanimous.

Chief Justice Ferguson said the three appeal judges also "did not experience a doubt".

She said the three judges had watched all the recordings from the trial, including the recorded interview with Cardinal Pell and the evidence given by 12 of the 24 witnesses.


In a heartbreaking statement after Pell's appeal decision was dismissed, the man to survive the cardinal's abuse said he hoped "it is all over now".

Often referred to as the choirboy, the man gave a statement through his lawyer Dr Viv Waller, who took his case pro bono after he made a statement to police four years ago.

"The criminal process has been stressful," Dr Waller read.

Complainant's lawyer Vivian Waller speaks after George Pell's appeal was dismissed. Photo / AP
Complainant's lawyer Vivian Waller speaks after George Pell's appeal was dismissed. Photo / AP

"The journey has taken me to places that, in my darkest moments, I feared I would not return from.

"I appreciate that the criminal process has afforded Pell every opportunity to challenge the charges and every opportunity to be heard. I am glad he has had the best legal representation that money can buy. There are a lot of checks and balances in the criminal justice system and the appeals process is one of them. I just hope that it is all over now."

The complainant said his friend's funeral four years ago, who died after a drug overdose directly linked to his PTSD from Pell's abuse, gave him a "responsibility to come forward".

"I knew that he had been in a dark place. I had been in a dark place," he said.

"I gave a statement to the police because I was thinking of him and his family. I felt that I should say what I saw and what had happened to me. I had experienced something terrible as a child, and I wanted some good to come of it.

"I would like to acknowledge the courage of those people who reported to the police. For one reason or another, your matters did not proceed. My heart goes out to you."

The complainant also rejected the suggestion he was out to cause damage to the Catholic Church.

"I am not on a mission to do anybody any harm," he said.

"Although my faith has taken a battering, it is still a part of my life, and a part of the lives of my loved ones. I am not an advocate. You wouldn't know my name. I am not a champion for the cause of sexual abuse survivors, although I am glad that those advocates are out there, but

that is not my path."

In February, when other sex abuse cases against Pell were thrown out, the choirboy was "left in the spotlight alone".

"I asked Viv Waller to help me manage the considerable media interest in the case and to protect my identity and to protect my family," he said.

"I could not afford legal representation, but that did not matter to her. I will be forever grateful that Viv agreed to help me and to do so for free.

"She has liaised with the media on my behalf. She has allowed the storms of public opinion to buffet her so that my young family could find safe harbour. My journey has not been an easy one. It has been all the more stressful because it involved a high-profile figure."

The choirboy said his privacy was paramount, especially after recently becoming a father.

"I need to be able to define myself away from all of this," he said.

"Recently, I have started a new chapter in my life as a father. The experiences I have been through have helped me understand what is truly important."