After his conviction for sexual abuse of minors gets the Australian Cardinal George Pell one last chance: Australia's highest court, the High Court in the capital Canberra, has approved his appeal on Wednesday. With that, the Vatican's former number three could potentially be sentenced to several years imprisonment.

78-year-old Pell is the highest-ranking Catholic convicted of sexual abuse. If Pell's appeal succeeds, the sentence against him would be lifted and he could leave the prison prematurely. An appeals court in the state of Victoria had rejected its appeal in August.

The former Minister of Finance and close confidante of the Pope had been convicted by a jury unanimously, two sexually molested two 13-year-olds in the St. Patrick's Cathedral 1996 and 1997. Pell was sentenced in March to six years in prison, of which he must serve at least three years and eight months before being released on probation. At the time of the crime, Pell was only recently Archbishop of Australia's second largest city.

The Vatican had prohibited Pell from publicly practicing his priesthood and having contact with minors. He no longer belongs to the advisory board of the Pope, his mandate as CFO expired automatically. Following the verdict of the jury in March, the Vatican announced its intention to wait before deciding on further consequences. Pell might lose his cardinal title.

Pell argues with legal mistakes

He himself has always rejected all allegations. His lawyers argued that the two appeals courts previously involved made mistakes. Based on testimony from some witnesses, they also questioned whether Pell had any opportunity to abuse the boys. The judges should not have asked Pell to prove that the abuse was impossible. The burden of proof lay with the prosecutors. Pell's lawyers demand his acquittal. The prosecution denied, however, that mistakes had been made. Therefore, there is no basis for an appeal.

Pell is currently in a Melbourne jail. The newspaper Herald Sun had reported in October, he had taken over there gardening. A convicted pedophile, he is protected from other inmates and is held in solitary confinement 23 hours a day. He was not present at the Wednesday hearing in Canberra. The hearing can only take place after the judges return from their summer break in early February.