Australian cardinal to challenge custody after child sex crimes conviction

A police officer makes way for Cardinal George Pell as he leaves the County Court of Victoria court after prosecutors decided not to proceed with a second trial on alleged historical child sexual offences in Melbourne on February 26, 2019.

Angry protesters called Cardinal George Pell a "maggot" and a "monster" Wednesday as he arrived in court, possibly for the last time as a free man, in a last-ditch push for bail while he appeals his historic conviction for child sex crimes.

Once one of Pope Francis' closest advisors, Pell is facing up to 25 years in prison for five charges of sexual and indecent assault on two choirboys in 1996-97, and is expected to be remanded in custody after the pre-sentencing submissions in court.

His lawyer plans to apply for bail later in the day before the Court of Appeal.

A large crowd greeted the cleric outside the County Court of Victoria in Melbourne, with supporters of other abuse survivors jostling the 77-year-old and yelling: "You're a maggot, Pell, you rot in hell."

"You're the devil. You're evil... You're a paedophile. You're a criminal. You're a monster. May you rot in hell," one protester shouted.

Shortly before Wednesday's hearing, Vatican spokesman Alessandro Gisotti announced on Twitter that Pell had been removed from his position as chief of Vatican finances, the third-most powerful position in the Church.

Pell was convicted in December of assaulting the two choirboys in the sacristy of Melbourne's Saint Patrick's Cathedral, but the verdict was only revealed Tuesday after a second trial against him was abandoned by prosecutors, allowing a gag order to be lifted.

Pell has already appealed the verdict. He is expected to be sentenced in the next two weeks.

The Court of Appeal process, which could last up to a year, will see a bench usually made up of three judges review the same evidence that the jurors were presented with in the earlier trial.

Criminal law expert Jeremy Gans of the University of Melbourne told AFP the judges could question the jury's conclusions based on the fact that the case was based on only one person's -- the surviving victim's -- testimony.

The other choirboy, who died of a drug overdose in 2014, had never told his parents he was abused.

The Catholic Church meanwhile could face a civil suit from the father of the deceased victim, who said via his lawyer Tuesday that the cleric had "blood on his hands".

He said his son, who cannot be named for legal reasons, turned to drugs as a teenager to cope with the trauma and also suffered from PTSD.

"We are looking at what knowledge the Church might have had in relation to what was happening," the lawyer, Leanne McDonald, told AFP.