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August 21, 2019

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Australian court to rule next week on Cardinal Pell’s appeal

Updated Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019 | 5:28 p.m.

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian court will announce its verdict next week on the appeal of the most senior Catholic clergyman to be found guilty of child sex abuse.

Cardinal George Pell could walk free if the judges acquit him of the five convictions for molesting two choirboys in a cathedral more than two decades ago. They also could order a retrial, in which case Pell would be released on bail, or they could reject his appeal.

No matter the verdict by the Victoria state Court of Appeal, Pell's case is likely to end up in the High Court, Australia's final arbiter.

Pell, 78, has been in a Melbourne prison since March when he was sentenced to six years for convictions on charges that he orally raped a 13-year-old choirboy and also indecently dealt with the boy and the boy's 13-year-old friend in a rear room of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in December 1996. He was also convicted of squeezing one of the boy's genitals in a cathedral corridor in February 1997.

The appeals court heard his arguments against the five convictions in early June, and the three judges announced on Thursday they will give their verdict next Wednesday.

Pell had become archbishop of Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city, months before his crimes are alleged to have taken place and had set up a world-first compensation arrangement for victims of clergy sexual abuse. He has been until recently Pope Francis' finance minister, described at his trial as the Vatican's third most senior cleric.

Pell's lawyers had to prove to the appeals court that the jury of eight men and four women that unanimously convicted him in December must have held a reasonable doubt about his guilt. An earlier trial had ended in a deadlocked jury.