Australian Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s finance minister, has strongly condemned the Catholic Church over the way it has handled systemic child sex abuse by priests. “The Church has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those, but the Church in many places, certainly in Australia, has mucked things up, has let people down,” Pell said via video link to Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse on Sunday. The commission investigates sexual abuse by cases that involve priests and that occurred decades ago. “I’m not here to defend the indefensible,” he said.
Giving evidence in front of abuse victims in a Rome hotel room, Pell told the commission in Sydney that children were often not believed and abusive priests shuffled from parish to parish. Some 15 abuse victims and supporters traveled to Rome on the back of a crowd-funding campaign to see Pell give evidence after he said he was unable to travel to his native Australia due to heart problems. Seventy four-year-old Pell, although not involved in any abuse case himself, has twice apologized for the Church’s slow response to the allegations.
However, his failure to testify on specific situations involving particular priests due to poor memory, angered witnesses in both Rome and Sydney. David Ridsdale, who was abused by his priest uncle, Father Gerald Ridsdale, said Pell’s tone was more conciliatory than before but “we have a long way to get to the truth.” Father Ridsdale has been convicted of 138 offences against 53 victims. In Sydney, victims’ supporters gathered outside the Commission’s hearing rooms, holding hands in prayers and carrying signs reading “Pope Sack Pell Now” and “Pell go to hell.” Pell is scheduled to engage in more evidence-giving sessions over the next three days. Sexual abuse allegations first emerged in 2002, when it was discovered that bishops in the Catholic Church area moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them.
The Roman Catholic Church has been hit by numerous scandals in the past few years, involving allegations of covering up the sexual abuse of children by priests to protect pedophiles and the reputation of the Church. More than 4,000 priests in the United States have reportedly faced sexual abuse allegations since the 1950s in cases involving more than 10,000 children. Pope Francis, who was appointed in 2013 with a mandate to overhaul the Vatican, has warned that there will be “no privileges” for bishops when it comes to child sex offenses. The pontiff also promised more action in response to accusations of cover-up and excessive leniency by the Vatican.