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Church Abuse Survivors Speak Out After Pell Appeal Quashed

Warning: This story discusses child sex abuse.

After decades of holding onto their stories, survivors of child sex abuse at last feel they have been believed.

Some survivors and advocates were at the Court of Appeal in Victoria's Supreme Court when George Pell lost his appeal against child sex abuse convictions on Wednesday.

Abuse survivor and activist, who goes by the pseudonym Michael Advocate, told Studio 10 he was "shocked and delighted" by the result.

"We are so used to being let down, we are so used to receiving the raw end of the deal," he said.

"It's a tremendous result for victims."

Photo: AAP

Once the Vatican's third-ranking official, Pell was found guilty of five charges in March -- one of sexually penetrating a child under the age of 16 and four of committing an indecent act -- related to the sexual abuse of two choirboys when he was archbishop of Melbourne in the 1990s.

Pell was sentenced to six years in prison, but appealed his convictions immediately, insisting he was innocent.

After deliberating on whether to overturn the 78-year-old's sentence, the Victorian Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal in a 2-1 majority.

Pell will serve out the rest of his prison sentence, with his only remaining option now is an appeal to the High Court.

READ MORE: George Pell: Court Of Appeal Upholds Child Sex Abuse Convictions

Child sex abuse survivor Frank Hampster was inside the court when the decision was handed down, and said he was "astounded" by the court's "right decision".

"There seems to be this unfounded belief in the Victorian community that the courts are out of touch with community standards and expectations," he told Studio 10. 

"What we saw today was an affirmation from the courts that yes, they are listening to the community, yes, they were aware of the seething white hot anger there is in the community towards child sexual abuse." 

"It was fantastic to see George's face get redder and redder," he claimed.

Photo: AAP

For Phil Nagle, who was the victim of clergy sexual abuse in Ballarat, Wednesday's decision was all about justice.

"Justice was served again today for the second time," he told Studio 10 in a Skpe interview.

"When you're not believed and you're telling the truth, it's a very difficult thing to deal with. That's why so many of us survivors have stayed quiet for so long."

The Blue Knot Foundation, Australia’s National Centre of Excellence for Complex Trauma, said an upheld conviction against a high profile and once-powerful perpetrator can underline a survivor's faith in the justice process.

"Believing the victim, in this case, sends a message to so many other victims that what happened to you mattered and will now be more likely to be believed than ever before," it said in a statement.

READ MORE: 'Australia Has Changed': Church Abuse Survivors Share Their Stories

SNAP, a network of survivors of institutional sexual abuse, hopes the news "brings comfort" to survivors across the country.

"Denying the appeal mounted by Cardinal George Pell helps send the message that no matter how powerful a person is, they are still subject to the rule of law," it said.

SNAP acknowledged the work of police and prosecutors involved with the case.

"We hope that today’s news will encourage others who may have experienced abuse at the hands of Cardinal Pell –- or any priest, nun, deacon or other church official –- to come forward, find help and start healing."

For Nagle, who started his campaign as a voice for survivors in the 1990s, he is relieved at the progress being made.

"There’s no doubt it has been a struggle. We all still struggle every day ... you can’t change what happened. We call ourselves survivors, but realistically we are victims," he said. 

"I’m certainly not a spokesperson on anyone’s behalf but I believe someone needs to talk for the people who can’t talk themselves.

"It's about keeping my age group of people alive."

Need Support? Call the Blue Knot helpline on 1300 657 380 between 9 am and 5 pm Monday to Sunday AEST. You can also email helpline@blueknot.org.au

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.