Cardinal Pell denies covering up priestly child abuse

An apologetic Cardinal George Pell has appeared before a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into child abuse and vehemently denied personally covering up offending by priests.

“No. Never,” the Sydney cardinal told the inquiry. He said the offending had largely escaped the view of Church officials who didn’t know what a “mess” they were presiding over.

Cardinal Pell was Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 till 2001, and responsible for establishing the Melbourne Response to deal with victims of child sexual abuse.

An overflow crowd heard him reject claims that there had been a “culture of abuse” among priests.

“I think the bigger fault was nobody would talk about it, nobody would mention it,” he said. He admitted his predecessor as Melbourne archbishop, Archbishop Frank Little, had “mishandled” one abuse case by destroying documents.

Cardinal Pell agreed under questioning that the fear of scandal led to a cover-up.

”The primary motivation would have been to respect the reputation of the Church,” he said. “There was a fear of scandal.”

He said the Church had been the victim of years of “intermittent hostility from the press” but he said this had helped uncover some of the Church’s failings.

In its submission to the inquiry, the Catholic Church said at least 620 Victorian children had been abused by its clergy in the past 80 years.

The cardinal, who was the last of 160 witnesses before the inquiry, said many in the Church did not understand “just what damage was being done to the victims”.

”If we’d been gossips, which we weren’t … we would have realised earlier just how widespread this business was,” he said.

He agreed that the Church had been slow to address the anguish of the victims.

“I’m certainly totally committed to improving the situation. I know the Holy Father is too,” he told the inquiry.

Cardinal Pell admitted that priestly celibacy “might have been a factor in some cases”, though paedophilia was also perpetrated by married people in the community.

In the middle of last century, he said, the screening process for seminarians was “much too loose”.


The Australian

ABC News

The Age

The Australian

Image: The Age

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