SYDNEY • Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell admitted yesterday that the Catholic Church "mucked up" in dealing with paedophile priests and vowed he would not "defend the indefensible" before an Australian inquiry.
Cardinal Pell gave evidence from a hotel in Rome via video-link to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney rather than appear in person as he has a heart condition.
The inquiry is focused on the Victorian state town of Ballarat, where Cardinal Pell grew up and worked, and how the Church dealt with complaints, many dating back to the 1970s, against the Catholic clergy.
Cardinal Pell, who rose to be the top Catholic official in Australia, said the Church historically made grave errors in not properly addressing the issue and was now working to remedy them.
"Let me just say this, as an initial clarification, and that is I'm not here to defend the indefensible," he said after swearing on the Bible to tell the truth. "The Church has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those. The Church in many places, certainly in Australia, has mucked things up, has let people down."
He acknowledged that in the past, the Church's general attitude to abuse was that it was "much, much more difficult for the child to be believed" and complaints were often dismissed.
But he denied the Church's structure was to blame for the way it handled paedophile priests. "I think the faults overwhelmingly have been more personal faults, personal failures rather than structures," he said.
Australia ordered the Royal Commission in 2012 after a decade of growing pressure to investigate allegations of paedophilia across the country.