SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia's Catholic Cardinal George Pell said Monday that some in the Vatican once saw accusations of child sex abuse by priests as coming from "enemies of the church to make trouble".
Pell, recently appointed by Pope Francis to head a new Vatican finance ministry, was giving evidence to a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia.
"The attitude of some people in the Vatican was that if accusations were being made against priests, they were being made exclusively or at least predominantly by enemies of the church to make trouble and therefore should be dealt with sceptically," he said.
"And I think there was more of an inclination to give the benefit of the doubt to the defendent rather than listening seriously to the complaints."
Pell said he felt that the church in Australia did not share this attitude to the same degree, and during the 1990s forged ahead in dealing with allegations of sex abuse by members of the Catholic Church.
"Whatever the deficiencies, I think we were ahead of some countries," he told the commission.
The national Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is under way after a decade of growing pressure to investigate widespread allegations of paedophilia.
Its hearings are covering harrowing allegations of child abuse involving places of worship, orphanages, community groups and schools.
Pell's appearance at the commission relates to the handling of the case of John Ellis, a former altar boy who was abused by a priest from the age of 13.
In a statement, the cardinal apologised to Ellis for the "gross violation and abuse" committed by the priest Aidan Duggan, who is now deceased.
Pell, who is not accused of any sexual abuse, said that mistakes were "made by me and others in the Church that resulted in driving Mr Ellis and the Archdiocese apart rather than bringing healing".
The royal commission follows an Australian state inquiry into the handling of child sex cases by the Catholic Church last year which found that religious leaders trivialised the problem of child sex abuse.
Last month Pope Francis handed Pell, formerly Archbishop of Sydney, a posting which makes him one of the most important men in the Catholic Church.
As such Pell is charged with helping overhaul the much-criticised central administration following a wave of scandals, including allegations of waste, corruption and even money-laundering.