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Cardinal Pell, in commission testimony, acknowledges 'catastrophe' in Church handling of abuse cases

February 29, 2016

Cardinal George Pell began testifying on February 28 before an Australian royal commission on sexual abuse, and acknowledged that many reports of abuse had been dismissed “in absolutely scandalous circumstances.”

"I'm not here to defend the indefensible," the cardinal said, in the first day of testimony that is expected to continue for three or more days. Cardinal Pell is testifying from Rome by a video link, with the sessions held at night, Rome time, to accommodate the royal commission in Australia.

"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," the Australian cardinal said. He was particularly critical of the way a case involving the ex-priest Gerald Ridsdale in the Ballarat diocese, where the future cardinal had once served alongside Ridsdale as a parish priest. The handling of the Ridsdale case, he said, was “a catastrophe: a catastrophe for the victims and a catastrophe for the Church.”

In Australia, representatives of sex-abuse victims have made Cardinal Pell the focal point of their criticism, and questioned whether the prelate was aware of Ridsdale’s misbehavior. Cardinal Pell—who is now testifying before the royal commission for a third time—has consistently said that he was unaware of complaints about Ridsdale until long after the fact.

The cardinal did acknowledge, however, that in the past he was too quick to dismiss complaints of priestly misconduct. “In those days,” he said, “if a priest denied such activity, I was very strongly inclined to accept the denial.”

The cardinal added that he recognized Church leaders generally were reluctant to believe complaints against priests. “The predisposition was not to believe,” he said. “The instinct was more to protect the institution, the community of the Church, from shame.”

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  • Posted by: feedback - Feb. 29, 2016 7:01 PM ET USA

    Ordination of many men with homosexual orientation appears to be the root of the 'catastrophe.'