The Vatican's former financial chief, 78-year-old Australian Cardinal George Pell, will remain in prison for at least another three years after the Victoria state Court of Appeal dismissed his lawyer's efforts to overturn a conviction for child sexual abuse.
Pell was one of Pope Francis' closest collaborators and once part of the restricted group of special cardinal advisers.
A statement read out by papal spokesman Matteo Bruni at the Vatican Wednesday morning, said the Holy See acknowledged and respected the decision taken by the Australian court.
Right to further 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,” said the Vatican statement.
Pell's lawyers will now examine the ruling and decide whether to take the case to the High Court. They have 28 days to do this.
Cardinal George Pell is the highest ranking church official ever to be convicted of child sex abuse.
In March of this year he was found guilty on five charges of sexual abuse on two 13-year-old choir boys in Saint Patrick's Cathedral in the late 1990s, while he was the Archbishop of Melbourne. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
In Australia, Wednesday's ruling prompted cheers to ripple into the courtroom from a large crowd gathered outside, and produced emotional statements from victims, their families and advocacy groups.
"Parents of people who were abused said that they were relieved that the conviction was upheld," says RFI's Australia correspondent Kathryn Magann.
"They said they weren't expecting it."
"A lot of people in Australia still have that view that because he [Pell] was the most senior Australian Catholic, that he would walk or there would be a reduction or a change."
"They said it's good to see steps have finally been taken to address what they see as a problem that's been going on for years, for decades," she explains.
Continue the fight for justice
The Vatican spokesman also said that the Catholic Church will continue to seek justice for the victims of clerical sexual abuse.
“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,” the statement said.
Cardinal Pell will be eligible for parole in 2022 when he will be 81 years old.
Following the ruling, his spokeswoman said the Cardinal was obviously disappointed with the court's decision.
For the time being, Pell remains a cardinal of the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis has said he will await for Australian civil justice to run its course before commenting on the case.