Cardinal George Pell has told the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse that the Vatican regarded anyone claiming they were abused by clergy as “enemies of the church”, whose actions were “as the Nazis had done, and the Communists”.
The former Archbishop of Sydney said Australia and the US were ahead of the Vatican in the 1990s when it came to facing the “challenge” of abuse.
“The attitude of some people in the Vatican is that if some people made accusations they were made by enemies of the church to make trouble and should therefore be dealt with sceptically,” he said during testimony this morning.
Cardinal Pell said that as a result, the Vatican’s “inclination” was “to give the benefit of the doubt to the defendant rather than listen seriously to the complaints”.
He said attitudes began to change after “good people who loved the Church” came forward “saying it was not done well enough”.
Cardinal Pell, 72, who leaves shortly for Rome and a new position as the Head of Vatican Finances, is appearing before the Royal Commission as it investigates the Catholic Church’s Towards Healing program to deal with the victims of sexual abuse by clergy.
The normally assertive and assured Cardinal seemed tentative during his testimony, which is expected to continue throughout today and also Wednesday.
When he attempted to compare the Church’s abuse record with other parts of society, including saying that most abuse claims were “not validated”, Cardinal was challenged by the Royal Commission to provide documentation to support his assertions, to the applause of the gallery. The Cardinal could not recollect where he’d drawn the figures from, but would look into it.
The gallery also laughed with disbelief when Cardinal Pell said “My own belief is that you should never disbelieve a complaint”.
A key line of inquiry for the Royal Commission is the Catholic the Church’s 2007 legal fight with John Ellis, who was just 13 when abuse by Father Aidan Duggan, lasting several years, occurred in Sydney during the 1970s.
The Church denied the abuse had occurred during a bitter legal fight costing the Church $1.5 million.
Cardinal Pell issued a statement on the matter to the Royal Commission, acknowledging that “mistakes were made by me and others that resulted in driving Mr Ellis and the Archdiocese apart rather than bringing healing”.
He apologised to Mr Ellis “for the gross violation and abuse committed” by the now deceased priest, adding “I deeply regret the pain, trauma and emotional damage that this abuse caused to Mr Ellis”.
“The legal battle was hard fought, perhaps too well fought by our legal representatives who won a significant legal victory,” he said.
The decision in favour of the Catholic Church by the NSW Court of Appeal became known as the “Ellis Defence”, which meant the church could not be held liable for abuse committed by a priest, nor could it be sued as a legal entity.
Cardinal Pell said that while he endorsed the legal strategies used in the case, he was not responsible for its day-to-day operation.
In opposing Mr Ellis, Cardinal Pell said he did not realise that the abuse victim was seeking $100,000, believing the claim would run to millions of dollars.
In other evidence, Cardinal Pell said that when he became the Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996 he “moved very vigorously to improve what was a chaotic situation” when it came to dealing with sexual abuse claims.
Within 100 days he produced what became was known as the “Melbourne Response”. During his testimony he said that the national response, which became known as Towards Healing, was not a priority.