Cardinal Says the Church ‘Mucked Things Up’ on Sexual Abuse
Hours before the cinematic telling of The Boston Globe’s uncovering of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal took home the Academy Award for best picture, the third-highest-ranking Vatican official admitted the church’s error in handling thousands of abuse allegations dating back decades.
Vatican treasurer George Pell took an oath on the Bible and testified on Sunday before Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that the Roman Catholic Church “mucked things up” when confronted with allegations of priests molesting children.
“I’m not here to defend the indefensible,” Pell said in a video call from Rome, according to NBC News. “The church has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those, but the church in many places, certainly in Australia, has mucked things up, has let people down.”
His statement took place in a hotel room in Rome some 9,000 miles from where victims watched the live stream of Pell admitting to the church’s wrongdoings. The Royal Commission, responsible for investigating allegations of child sexual abuse, set up the video call. Pell, an Australian, said he was too “unwell” to give testimony in Australia. Some Australian victims traveled to Rome to hear him say it in person.
“There’s a tendency to evil in the Catholic Church too, and sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse, but for good or for ill, the church follows the patterns of the societies in which it lives,” he said.
Pell’s testimony made him the highest-ranking clergyman to admit to the church’s concealment of sexual abuse cases. The Vatican’s treasurer is considered the third-most-powerful church official, behind Pope Francis and Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin. While he’s not facing charges himself, Pell’s position could be in jeopardy should further evidence he helped cover up sexual assault cases be found, according to NBC.
Some 40 years ago, Pell served as a senior priest and vicar in a diocese near Melbourne, where a number of priests had sexually abused children. One of them, Gerald Ridsdale, became Australia’s most notorious pedophile priest. He and Pell shared a house. Ridsdale was convicted for abusing more than 50 children over the course of three decades, with some cases dating back to when he was first ordained, in 1961.
Pell says the church at the time was “very strongly inclined” to believe priests who denied victimizing children, even though he also admitted that there were credible cases against them.
“They were very, very, very plausible allegations made by responsible people that were not followed up sufficiently,” he said.
Since the investigative news team at the Globe first broke the story in 2002, there have been 3,400 credible cases of sexual assault brought to the attention of the Vatican. Catholic News Service reported that there were 410,000 Catholic priests worldwide in 2014.
In Sydney, supporters gathered in solidarity of victims, holding hands and carrying signs that read “Pope Sack Pell Now” and “Pell go to hell.”
“[Pell] could have changed many things. He would have saved so many lives,” Ridsdale’s nephew, Dominic Ridsdale, who was one of several abuse victims who traveled to Rome to watch Pell’s testimony in person, told NBC. “Too many people have committed suicide for these abuses, and that’s why we are here today.”