Cardinal George Pell leaves the County Court in Melbourne, Australia. Picture: Andy Brownbill/AP

Canberra  - Phil Nagle, a child sexual abuse survivor, was one of the few people who went to Rome in 2016 when Cardinal George Pell gave evidence via a video link to an Australian inquiry into child sexual abuse. 

Nagle, 55, was abused as a school student by a Christian Brother in Ballarat, where Pell was a priest.

Pell has become the highest-ranking Catholic to be convicted of child sexual abuse after a Melbourne court found him guilty of raping a choirboy and molesting another in the 1990s. 

Nagle says he never thought Pell would be convicted. 

"In Rome, the accusations he faced - he kept saying 'I don't recall,' or 'can't remember. He seemed to be a bit of a liar," Nagle told dpa on Tuesday. 

"I am ecstatic. The guilty verdict means no matter who you are or how powerful you are, you will be held accountable," he said.

"For someone of Pell's stature to be convicted as a paedophile is historic. Because of his power and position, we never thought he would be held accountable for the crimes he committed."

Nagle, who went through the legal process of bringing charges against his abusers in the 1990s, said it will "definitely encourage more people to speak up."

"As for the healing process, it is a step towards the right direction. There is no cure to what happened to us, but we want to see justice served," he said.

"Now that Pell has been found guilty, he has to go to jail for the crimes he committed and also be defrocked quickly," Nagle added.

Pell's guilty verdict, revealed on Tuesday after a suppression order was lifted, is significant for many survivors of child sexual abuse and their supporters.   

Chrissie Foster and her late husband Anthony spent 10 years fighting Pell and the Catholic Church for compensation for their daughters who were abused by a Catholic priest. Foster said the conviction should scare others in the church.

"Maybe there's a lot of scared clergy out there, which would be good, because this should be hunted down and punished through the courts," she told Australian broadcaster ABC on Tuesday.

"It should have happened a long time ago. We've got a bit of catching up to do."

SNAP, a US-based support group for victim and survivors of clergy abuse, said the conviction gives hope to "survivors across the world yearning for accountability at the top levels of the church." 

Its spokesperson said there were two lessons from the verdict. 

"First, police and prosecutors are doing what popes and prelates are NOT doing - exposing child molesting clerics."

"Second, kids can be protected from even powerful and politically connected predators if survivors are smart and brave enough to trust law enforcement," its spokesperson said in a statement.

A lawyer for some of the abuse survivors said the Catholic Church can not ignore the verdict, since "it goes to the very top."

"The Catholic Church for too long has repeatedly shown that it is incapable of taking responsibility for the actions of members of the Church and in showing genuine compassion and remorse to survivors of abuse," said Michelle James from firm Maurice Blackburn. 

Meanwhile, Catholic Church leaders in Australia expressed shock.

Mark Coleridge, the president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, who attended the recent Vatican conference on sexual abuse, said the conviction had "shocked many across Australia and around the world, including the Catholic Bishops of Australia."

"The Bishops agree that everyone should be equal under the law, and we respect the Australian legal system," he said on Tuesday, vowing to do "everything possible to ensure that the Church is a safe place for all, especially the young and the vulnerable." 

Melbourne's Archbishop Peter Comensoli said he is "surprised and shaken" by Pell's conviction.

"While acknowledging the judgment of the jury, I join many people who have been surprised and shaken by the outcome," Comensoli said in a statement.

dpa