THE journalist who extensively researched and investigated the sexual abuse allegations against the world's third highest ranking Catholic has spoken of the relief in his appeal being rejected on Wednesday morning.
The Court of Appeal this morning upheld the verdict of the County Court jury who found Ballarat-born Cardinal George Pell guilty in December 2018 of five charges of child sexual abuse against two 13-year-old choirboys while he was Archbishop of Melbourne. He was sentenced to six years in prison.
Related coverage: George Pell loses appeal and will remain behind bars
The Court of Appeal, Victoria's highest court, rejected Pell's appeal 2-1.
Award-winning ABC journalist and author of Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell, Louise Milligan, who has dedicated years of her life to investigating the life and allegations against the now convicted paedophile and former Vatican treasurer, told The Courier she was "enormously relieved" for the former choirboy at the centre of the case, known to the court as 'J'.
His friend, the other choirboy, died of a heroin overdose in 2014, aged 31.
"He came forward under such difficult circumstances. It has been four years of his life and he has been subjected to the most difficult set of circumstances," Milligan said.
"It is the ultimate David and Goliath case. The fact the judges believed him is just such a relief because I personally think he deserves to be believed.
"I am really, really grateful to the justice system, that it has operated as it should."
Related coverage: Louise Milligan's George Pell story her most difficult
Milligan said though the verdict being upheld was a relief for all of the complainants, their families and friends, nobody was popping a champagne cork.
She said the complainant, a very private person who she does not speak for, had come forward but had been subjected to speculation, including that he was a liar and a fantasist.
"[The court process] can plunge people right back into despair. It re-triggers and traumatises. Justice has been done but it's not something that anybody feels happy about," she said.
"I just hope he can move on now."
But despite that, Milligan said the complainant, with his compelling account, had convinced not only the jury but the Court of Appeal of the truth.
"That is incredibly powerful when you're talking about the third most senior Catholic in the world."
"Never let it be underestimated how difficult it is to go through this process. It has been enormously difficult for this young man, J, and the family of his friend. Nobody celebrates this - it is a sombre moment and should be treated as such, but it's a relief."
In a statement read by his lawyer, the complainant expressed his relief at the decision.
"The criminal process has been stressful. The journey has taken me to places that, in my darkest moments, I feared I could not return from. The justice machine rolls on with all of its processes and punditry, almost forgetting about the people at the heart of the matter.
"Despite this, I appreciate that the criminal process afforded Pell every opportunity to challenge the charges and to be heard.
"I am glad he had the best legal representation money can buy. There are lots of checks and balances in the criminal justice system and the appeal process is one of them."
Milligan, who herself was called as a witness during the trial, has been in contact with many survivors, including those in Ballarat, in recent weeks.
The lengthy legal process - the mistrial and then the re-trial resulting in a conviction, as well as the appeal, has been emotional for many people affected by the case.
And for the victims, the pain and trauma will never go away.
"Everybody has been on tenterhooks about what the decision would be. I'm just glad that justice was done but it's not a happy moment because it's still sad," she said.
A second trial, based on allegations that Pell had indecently assaulted two boys at Ballarat's Eureka Swimming pool in the 1970s was also planned, but earlier this year it was announced the trial would not go ahead.
Milligan said the fact the verdict was upheld was a positive sign for other potential victims of sexual assault who may want to come forward.
"I wouldn't be surprised if others come forward because they may feel that it is a possibility that you can achieve justice against such a powerful person," she said.
From here, Milligan said she would like to see more kindness afforded to people who make complaints against high-profile people.
"There are of course a minority of media pundits who have always supported George Pell - who are conservative commentators - who seem to see this as a matter of ideology, but it's not about ideology, it's about the abuse of little children," she said.
"[People] need to understand how hurtful it is for the complainants when they are doubted like this. It's very damaging and very traumatising.
"You can have a private opinion about a friend's guilt or innocence and it's very hard to come to terms with the fact that your friend has been abusing children but I would hope that people who are friends with the Cardinal, or any other high profile person who is accused or convicted of these types of crimes, steps back and thinks of the people whose childhoods were destroyed."
It is possible Pell's lawyers will appeal to the High Court, but it is not yet known if this will happen.
If this story has affected you, contact the Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault on 5320 3933 or 1800 Respect.
Have you signed up to The Courier's variety of news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in Ballarat.