VATICAN CITY- The Vatican said Tuesday it has the "utmost respect" for the justice system following the "painful news" of the conviction of Australian Cardinal George Pell for child sex crimes.
"We reiterate the utmost respect for Australian judicial authorities. In the name of this respect, we now await the outcome of the appeal process," Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti said, reading out a prepared statement.
Pell, one of Pope Francis' closest advisers, has been found guilty of sexually assaulting two choirboys, becoming the most senior Catholic cleric ever convicted of child sex crimes.
An Australian jury unanimously found Pell guilty in December on one count of sexual abuse and four counts of indecent assault against two boys at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne in the 1990s.
A wide-ranging suppression order from the presiding judge had prevented the media from reporting even the existence of court proceedings, but the order was lifted on Tuesday.
"It is painful news that, we are well aware, has shocked many people, not just in Australia," the Vatican statement said.
"Cardinal Pell has reaffirmed his innocence and has the right to defend himself to the last degree."
"As we await the definitive verdict, we join the Australian bishops in praying for all victims of abuse, reaffirming our commitment to do everything possible so that the Church is a safe home for everyone, especially for children," it said.
On the order of Pope Francis, the "precautionary measures" already in place against Pell still stand: he is "forbidden to exercise the public exercise of the ministry and have any contact in any form with minors."