The questioning centered on how much the cardinal knew about a number of priests and brothers accused of pedophilia during the 40 years in which he rose through the ranks of Australia’s clerical hierarchy, and whether he failed to act on the abuses. Many of the accused offenders have been convicted.
Cardinal Pell has repeatedly acknowledged, and he did so again on Sunday, that the Roman Catholic Church made “enormous mistakes” and “let people down” when it did not protect the thousands of children who had been systematically abused by priests and religious brothers while their superiors looked the other way. “I’m not here to defend the indefensible,” he said.
But Cardinal Pell has also insisted, and he did so again on Sunday, that he had no memory of hearing about specific substantiated cases of sexual abuse during the 1970s and 1980s. He said he occasionally heard gossip.
At the time, he was a priest and consultant to the bishop in Ballarat — a city about 70 miles west of Melbourne — living in a presbytery next to a school where cases of abuse were found to be rampant, and later was auxiliary bishop of Melbourne.
His nearly four-hour testimony late Sunday, punctuated by numerous denials, quickly added fuel to criticism that the Vatican, despite the pope’s promises of reform, is still failing to grapple forcefully with the abuse issue.