HUNTER child sexual abuse survivors who campaigned for a royal commission applauded moves to strip disgraced Cardinal George Pell of his Order of Australia, and said the Vatican had to defrock him.
As news of Pell's failed appeal to overturn his child sex convictions was reported around the world, local survivors acknowledged the courage of the man whose complaint about Pell led to his downfall.
The former choirboy was a witness of truth, said Victorian Court of Appeal Justices Anne Ferguson and Christopher Maxwell in a majority decision that rejected Pell's case that there were 13 reasons the jury's guilty findings were unreasonable, and the crimes were an "impossibility".
But in a dissenting decision that gave Pell supporters hope of a High Court appeal, Justice Mark Weinberg said he could not "in good conscience, do other than to maintain my dissent", after citing a dissenting judge in a failed 1984 appeal by Lindy Chamberlain for murdering her baby Azaria. The dissenting judge's view was ultimately proven correct.
In a statement after the failed appeal on Wednesday a spokesperson for Pell said he noted the split decision and maintains his innocence.
Pell was convicted of five charges including orally raping one choirboy, 13, and sexually molesting another, also 13, in the priests' sacristy at Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral in December, 1996 when he was the new Archbishop of Melbourne.
He molested one of the boys in a second incident at the cathedral in February, 1997.
In their 120-page decision Justices Ferguson and Maxwell noted the world-wide reporting of the Pell case and the passionate emotions the senior cleric engendered.
"Indeed, it is fair to say that his case has divided the community," the two judges said.
They rejected the interpretation of evidence by Pell supporters and his lawyers, who argued the former choirboy's allegations were a fantasy and a fabrication and that he was a "cunning and calculating liar".
While Pell's lawyers argued it was "physically impossible" for him to have pulled his heavy archbishop's garments aside in the priests' sacristy to expose himself and sexually abuse the two choirboys, Justices Ferguson and Maxwell said the garments were "well capable of being manoeuvred".
The two senior judges also rejected Pell's case that it was highly improbable someone in his position would have committed the crimes in a part of a cathedral shortly after his first church service as Melbourne Archbishop.
Although there was a high risk of discovery, and the potential risk to his reputation and position was "enormous", the judges cited other cases where other prominent offenders had abused despite the high likelihood of being seen.
"The existence of a high level of risk did not, in and of itself, oblige the jury to have a reasonable doubt that the alleged offending took place," Justices Ferguson and Maxwell found.
While Pell's lawyers described as fantasy the former choirboy's evidence he was sexually abused in a few minutes after running with his mate into the sacristy to "swig" the altar wine, Justices Ferguson and Maxwell said it was plausible.
"We can readily picture two choirboys deciding on the spur of the moment to break away from the procession once the pressure of public performance at Mass was released, and venturing into an area which was strictly out of bounds," the two judges said.
"The 'swigging' of the altar wine seems to us to be just the kind of thing which might occur in an adolescent escapade."
The scenario rendered the two choirboys "acutely vulnerable and powerless, and palpably so".
"They had been discovered, by the most powerful person in the Cathedral hierarchy, in the course of committing acts of serious disobedience and gross disrespect," the judges said.
The former choirboy's explanation of why he kept the abuse a secret then, and did not report it to police until after his friend's suicide in 2014, was "perfectly understandable", the judges said.
The former choirboy told the court during the trial in 2018 that "everyone around me had a lot of hopes in me on attending St Kevin's College".
"That was the main drive. I wanted to stay at St Kevin's. I wanted to be a part of that school, and I wanted to succeed in a rich private school environment," he said.
Justices Ferguson and Maxwell said it was "perfectly understandable" to have ruled out the possibility of reporting the abuse because "he had been caught red-handed, in a prohibited place and anything he said about Cardinal Pell was almost certain to be disbelieved".
Outside the court on Wednesday the former choirboy's lawyer, Vivian Waller, read a statement in which he expressed relief and hope that the decision meant the end of the criminal process.
"The journey has taken me to places that in my darkest moments I feared I would not return from," the statement read. "I just hope that it is all over now."
Also at the court was Chrissie Foster, who with late husband Anthony fought for survivors of child sexual abuse after two of their daughters were sexually abused by a notorious Victorian Catholic priest.
Their fight for justice included encounters with Pell. In 2012 they travelled to NSW to support the Newcastle Herald's Shine the Light campaign for a royal commission.
"What a day for truth and victims," Mrs Foster said. "Anthony would have loved this news."
Hunter survivor advocate Peter Gogarty said the decision showed the impact of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was real and significant.
"This decision is a momentous point in the effort to make our criminal justice system something closer to a victim justice system," Mr Gogarty said.
"Not because it was about Pell, but because the wisdom of the jury was supported, and because some of the tactics used by defence lawyers to damage survivor credibility have passed their use by date."
Another Hunter survivor advocate, Rob Roseworne, who also played a key role in campaigning for the royal commission with Mr Gogarty, said that everyone who supported the need for a royal commission "deserves a pat on the back after this decision".
"We all need a pat on the back, not because of vengeance but for justice, something that was not considered by sexual offenders and the institutions that protected them," Mr Roseworne said.
"What the investigation of this matter, the jury decision and this appeal court decision shows is that no one in this country is above the law and the house of cards, smoke and mirrors of how the Catholic Church conducts itself is falling."
He was pleased by Prime Minister Scott Morrison's announcement that Pell would lose his Order of Australia and said the Vatican "must defrock him".
Justice Ferguson delivered a summary of the landmark Pell decision, with Justices Maxwell and Weinberg by her side, via a livestream link to a world audience. Pell was once the third most powerful member of the Catholic Church whose moral standing was shattered after two devastating appearances at the royal commission.
In an interview with police Pell described the allegations against him as "a load of garbage and falsehood and deranged falsehood".
Maitland-Newcastle Bishop Bill Wright said he appreciated the Pell decision demonstrated no-one is above the law and that "may be of some help and encouragement to survivors of abuse who long felt that they were not heard or not believed".
His thoughts were also with Pell "as they would to any human being having to come to terms with the prospect of a lengthy time in prison".
Pell must serve a minimum three years and eight months in jail.