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Australian court to rule on ex-Vatican treasurer's sex offences appeal on April 7


By Sonali Paul

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Ex-Vatican treasurer George Pell will learn on April 7 whether he can walk free from jail, when Australia's highest court hands down its judgment on his appeal against historical child sex offences.

The decision will likely bring to an end the long-running prosecution of the cardinal for sexually assaulting two teenaged choirboys in the 1990s when he was Archbishop of Melbourne. Pell is the highest ranking Catholic worldwide to be jailed for child sex offences.

The High Court of Australia said on Thursday it would deliver its judgment at 10am (0000 GMT) on Tuesday, April 7.

The court could overturn his conviction, in which case Pell would walk free, or it could dismiss the appeal, leaving him in jail. The case could also be sent back to a lower court, but legal experts considered that a slim possibility.

Pell was convicted by a jury in December 2018 on one charge of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four charges of an indecent act with a child under 16. He was sentenced to six years in prison and lost an appeal against his conviction in a lower court last August.

His appeal to the High Court was heard by seven justices over two days in March, during which numerous questions about the prosecution's case were raised.

Legal experts said the release of the judgment within one month of the hearing was relatively quick for a court that typically takes several months to deliver its decisions.

The decision will be delivered in the middle of the most important week in the Catholic liturgical calendar, when the church's 1.3 billion members celebrate Easter.

(Reporting by Sonali Paul)

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