Vatican could try Pell under Church law

The Vatican says it will let George Pell exhaust all legal avenues of appeal against his sexual abuse convictions in Australia before taking up his case in its own canon law investigation.

Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni says the decision to hold off on any action is consistent with the Vatican's handling of other sex abuse cases.

Bruni was responding to questions after an Australian appeals court on Wednesday upheld Pell's conviction on charges he molested two 13-year-old choirboys in Melbourne's St. Patrick's Cathedral more than two decades ago.

Pell can still lodge a final appeal with the High Court, Australia's final arbiter.

If the Vatican eventually convicts Pell of sex abuse under canon law, he could be defrocked. Pell has already been barred from exercising public ministry or having contact with minors.

The Vatican acknowledged the Australian court decision to uphold George Pell's conviction but said he has a right to another appeal.

A statement was issued hours after Pell, the former Vatican finance minister, on Wednesday lost an appeal in Melbourne's Court of Appeal.

The decision means he will remain in prison for at least another three years.

"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 statement 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," it said.

The pope has previously said he would wait for Australian civil justice to take its course before commenting on the case.

The cardinal maintains his innocence and his legal team is examining the court's 325-page judgment to determine the potential for a shot at a High Court appeal.

Pell is still a cardinal in the Catholic Church and would still be a priest even if he resigns that position.

The Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) would have to find him guilty in a separate canonical trial or abbreviated procedure, known as an "administrative process", before he could be dismissed from the priesthood.

The CDF has been looking into the accusations against Pell since his conviction in Australia.

A US-based non-profit group that seeks accountability for sex abuse in the Catholic church said the ruling was a watershed that should give all victims hope.

"Catholics everywhere owe thanks to the incredibly brave victim who brought Pell to justice," the group said in a statement.

It also expressed hope Australia would continue to investigate Pell.

"An abusive bishop is, inevitably, an enabler of other sexual criminals. His sphere of negative influence extends beyond his own victims, hurting the children (who) are raped or assaulted by the abusive clerics to whom he gives safe harbor."