Cardinal George Pell
George Pell arrives at Melbourne County Court on February 27, 2019, in Melbourne, Australia. Scott Barbour/Getty Images

Former Vatican treasurer Cardinal George Pell was sentenced to six years in jail by an Australian court on Wednesday for sexually abusing two choir boys in the 1990s at St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne.

Pell, 77, is the highest-ranking Catholic priest worldwide to be convicted for child sex offences.

"In my view, your conduct was permeated by staggering arrogance," County Court of Victoria Chief Judge Peter Kidd said in the sentencing, which took more than an hour.

"Viewed overall, I consider your moral culpability across both episodes to be high."

Kidd set a non-parole period of three years and eight months. Pell will be registered as a sex offender for life, he said.

Pell, who was found guilty in December, has maintained he is innocent and has filed an appeal on three grounds, set to be heard in June.

The 77-year-old Cardinal is currently on leave from his role as the Vatican's treasurer. He was out on bail since the verdict on December 11 to recover from knee surgery.

cardinal george pell lawyer
Robert Richter QC, lawyer for Cardinal George Pell, leaves the Melbourne County Court on March 13, 2019 in Melbourne, Australia. Michael Dodge/Getty Images

During a hearing for the similar five charges in August, a hung jury prompted a retrial which took place in December. The jury deliberated for two days before passing the verdict. The Cardinal could potentially be facing a 50-year prison sentence.

A report by The Washington Post states that Pell had encountered his two victims after a Sunday Holy Mass drinking the sacramental wine. He exposed himself to them and pushed his penis into one boy's mouth and orally raped him and then forced the other boy's mouth also on his penis. He then ordered the complainant to remove his clothes, fondled the complainant's genitalia while masturbating. The victims then put on their clothes and went home.

The complainant added that he was again assaulted by the Cardinal in either late 1996 or early 1997. The complainant was walking down a hallway after Sunday Mass when the Cardinal pushed him against the wall and squeezed his genitalia.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference said that Australia was shocked by the situation. According to The Guardian, Archbishop Mark Coleridge, the president of the conference said, "The bishops agree that everyone should be equal under the law, and we respect the Australian legal system. The same legal system that delivered the verdict will consider the appeal that the Cardinal's legal team has lodged."

He added, "Our hope, at all times, is that through this process, justice will be served."