VATICAN CITY — The Vatican said Wednesday it respects the decision by the Court of Appeals in Victoria to uphold the conviction of Cardinal George Pell, while recalling the cardinal’s insistence of his innocence throughout the judicial process.

The conviction of Cardinal George Pell on five counts of abuse was upheld by the Court of Appeals in Victoria Aug. 21. After an appellate panel announced its decision at a court proceeding, the cardinal was returned to prison.

“While reiterating its respect for the Australian judicial system ... the Holy See acknowledges the court’s decision to dismiss Cardinal Pell’s appeal,” Matteo Bruni, Holy See press office director, said Aug. 21.

Bruni stated that “as the proceedings continue to develop, the Holy See recalls that the cardinal has always maintained his innocence throughout the judicial process and that it is his right to appeal to the High Court.”

Cardinal Pell’s legal team has said it will thoroughly examine the over 300-page judgment before deciding whether to petition the Australian High Court in Canberra. Such an effort is expected by legal experts to offer a very slim chance of success, given the appeal court result.

Cardinal Pell’s lawyers have said that he will not petition for a shorter sentence.

Bruni concluded his brief statement by expressing the Holy See’s closeness to victims of sexual abuse and confirming its commitment to carry out appropriate ecclesiastical procedures against clergy who have committed abuse.

The Vatican announced in March the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would carry out a canonical process against Cardinal Pell at the conclusion of the judicial process in Australia.

In response to questions, Bruni confirmed to journalists that the CDF is “awaiting the outcome of the ongoing proceedings and the conclusion of the appellate process prior to taking up the case.”

Bruni also referenced the precautionary measures imposed on Cardinal Pell on his return to Australia in summer 2017, per Vatican norms: “the prohibition from exercising public ministry and from any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors.”

The cardinal was convicted Dec. 11, 2018, on five charges that he sexually abused two choristers after Sunday Mass while he was archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 and 1997.

He was sentenced to six years in prison, of which he must serve at least three years and eight months before being eligible to apply for parole.

The cardinal, 78, who remains an archbishop and a member of the College of Cardinals, was returned to prison immediately after court adjourned. He has been held in solitary confinement for 176 days. He is not permitted to celebrate Mass in prison.

He may now be transferred from the intake and evaluation facility at which he is currently being held to a different prison in Victoria.

Cardinal Pell’s lawyers have said that he will not petition for a shorter sentence.

A statement from the Australian archbishops’ conference Wednesday said the bishops “believe all Australians must be equal under the law and accept today’s judgement accordingly.”

The statement also noted the Australian bishops’ commitment to bringing healing to those who have suffered abuse and to ensuring Catholic spaces are always safe, especially for children and vulnerable adults.

Individual Australian bishops also released statements Wednesday, including Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, who said “reasonable people have taken different views when presented with the same evidence” in Cardinal Pell’s case, urging people “to maintain calm and civility.”

“I know that there are many in the Catholic community and beyond who will find it difficult to come to terms with this judgment,” Fisher said, “especially those who know the Cardinal and will struggle to reconcile this outcome with the man they know. I thank them for persevering in faith, hope and love.”

“As we wait to hear whether the legal process will continue, I will seek to provide pastoral support to those Catholics who may have found their faith tested,” the archbishop added.

Archbishop Peter Comensoli of Melbourne said in his statement that he knows “the complexity of the search for the truth in this matter has tested many, and may very well continue to do so.”

He expressed his prayers and support for the man who brought the case against Cardinal Pell before the courts, offering “pastoral and spiritual help, should he seek it.”

Archbishop Comensoli also said that he will ensure “Cardinal Pell is provided pastoral and spiritual support while he serves the remainder of his sentence, according to the teaching and example of Jesus to visit those in prison.”