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Pell given last hope of court redemption

Cardinal George Pell has one last hope of overturning his child sexual abuse convictions after being given the right to argue for an appeal to Australia's highest court.

The full bench of the High Court will next year hear appeal arguments by the world's most senior Catholic to be jailed for sexually abusing children.

While Pell was said to be pleased, the father of one of his two victims was devastated at Wednesday's decision by Justices James Edelman and Michelle Gordon to refer the matter to the full court.

Pell's lawyers, his spokesperson and the surviving victim declined to comment given the case is still before the courts.

But lawyer Lisa Flynn said the father of the second victim, who died aged 31 from a drug overdose in 2014, was devastated.

"He was really hopeful that this would be over for him today because as the process goes on, and has gone on for some time, it is extremely re-traumatising for him," she told reporters in Brisbane.

The surviving victim's lawyer Vivian Waller said they will await the outcome of the High Court appeal.

"The appeals process is a very important part of the checks and balances of the criminal justice system," Dr Waller told AAP.

"Both my client and I are deeply respectful of that process."

Pell's lawyers told the former Vatican treasurer of Wednesday's decision during a visit to the Melbourne Assessment Prison.

The hearing will be held before five or all seven High Court judges, with March said to be the earliest possible date.

Pell, 78, was jailed for six years for sexually assaulting the two choirboys at Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral while Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996.

Victoria's Court of Appeal upheld the five convictions in a 2-1 decision in August.

Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said the appeal court's divided judgment reflected the divided opinion within the community and among legal commentators and jurors, referring to the hung jury that preceded a retrial's unanimous guilty verdicts.

Pell, Australia's most senior Catholic, has always maintained his innocence.

The High Court did not formally grant or refuse Pell's written application for special leave to appeal, instead referring the matter to the full court.

After hearing the matter, the court could refuse the application for special leave or approve it and either allow or dismiss the appeal.

The referral was basically the same as a grant of leave, the University of Melbourne's Jeremy Gans said.

Prof Gans said a referral, instead of a grant of leave, was rare and never explained by the court.

"For what it's worth, it means that the court has not yet decided that the case is actually worth deciding, just that it's worth hearing. Go figure,'' he tweeted.

The appeal will delay any action against Pell by the Vatican, which has said it will let him exhaust all legal avenues of appeal before taking up its own canon law investigation.

The dead victim's father has written to the Pope asking him to explain why Pell remains a cardinal and has not been defrocked.

Archbishop Fisher said the church would continue to offer pastoral support to Pell while he remained in prison awaiting the appeal, as well as all people affected by the case.

Australian Catholic Bishops Conference president Archbishop Mark Coleridge said the appeal would prolong an already lengthy and difficult process, but he hoped the High Court's judgment "will bring clarity and a resolution for all".

The Vatican said it trusted the Australian legal system and noted in a statement that Pell had always maintained his innocence.

"At this time, the Holy See reaffirms once again its closeness to those who have suffered because of sexual abuse on the part of members of the clergy," Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said.

© AAP 2019

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