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Cardinal admits 'enormous mistakes' made in response to abuse allegations

| Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, 8:27 p.m.

ROME — One of Pope Francis' top advisers acknowledged Sunday that the Catholic Church “has made enormous mistakes” in allowing thousands of children to be raped and molested by priests over centuries as he testified at an extraordinary public hearing of an Australian investigative commission just a few blocks from the Vatican.

Australian Cardinal George Pell testified via videolink from a Rome hotel to the Royal Commission sitting in Sydney. In the front row of the conference room were two dozen Australian abuse survivors and their companions who had traveled across the globe to be on hand for Pell's testimony, a significant show of accountability in the church's long-running abuse saga.

The lead counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness, questioned Pell about current Vatican efforts to address the scandal as well as Pell's past in Australia, including how he dealt with abuse allegations as a priest, educator and adviser to former Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns.

Pell asserted at the start: “I'm not here to defend the indefensible. The church has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those.” He said the church “mucked things up and let people down” and for too long had dismissed credible abuse allegations “in absolutely scandalous circumstances.”

He termed Mulkearns' handling of Australia's most notorious pedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, as a “catastrophe for the church” and suggested that he would be a candidate for a proposed Vatican tribunal to hear the cases of negligent bishops. But Pell acknowledged that he too had made mistakes in often believing the priests over victims who alleged abuse.

“I must say in those days, if a priest denied such activity, I was very strongly inclined to accept the denial.”

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