Cardinal Pell testifies via video conference © Jeremy Piper (CBA)
Protests outside hotel accompany Cardinal Pell's statement © Dan Himbrechts
Australian Curia Cardinal George Pell has acknowledged "enormous errors" in the handling of abuse cases. He told the Australian Abuse Commission on Monday night that he would "not defend the indefensible".
Church in Australia "messed things up and let people down," Pell says, according to Australian media reports. The cardinal made his comments via video link from Rome to the state commission investigating the handling of abuse cases by institutions in Sydney. Because of an acute heart condition he could not fly to the hearing in Sydney on the advice of his doctors.
Admitting one's own mistakes
The cardinal had also admitted his own mistakes in a sweeping way, it was said. "I must say I was very inclined to believe a priest at the time when he denied the accusation of abuse," Pell was quoted as saying.
When asked about specific cases, however, the Vatican finance minister had said he could not remember or had blamed the then bishop Ronald Mulkearns. In light of evidence presented by the commission, Pell had acknowledged there had been "apparently a significant number of people" who had known about the abuse.
Abuse cases in the Australian diocese of Ballarat
The hearing focused on abuse cases in the Australian diocese of Ballarat. Pell was a priest there between 1973 and 1984, episcopal vicar for education and one of Bishop Mulkearns' advisors. A number of priests in the diocese have now been convicted and sentenced for sexual abuse in many cases.
Pell knew these priests and was friends with one perpetrator, Gerald Ridsdale. The former chaplain of the boys' school St. Alipius was convicted and sentenced in multiple trials of sexual abuse totaling 138 counts between 1993 and 2013. Victims were 53 children. Pell lived for a time with Ridsdale in the school's priestly flat-sharing community.
Hearing to continue
Pell accused of involvement in abuse cover-up. He is alleged to have offered a victim, David Ridsdale, hush money after the abuse by his uncle Gerald. Pell firmly rejects these accusations. The cardinal's hearing will continue Tuesday.
Abuse victims pursued hearing
During the questioning in a Roman hotel, ten abuse victims or parents of victims also sat in the room. Some wore T-shirts with the words "No more Silence" or a child's picture of themselves on them. In a statement, they demanded more financial support from the church for those who have suffered. Their traumas, he said, had left many unable to make a living or addicted to alcohol. While the church secures pensions for perpetrators, it leaves their victims in the lurch materially.
The Australian Abuse Commission was established in 2013 by then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard to investigate the handling of abuse cases by churches, religious communities and secular institutions. The final report is expected in December 2017.