Archbishop of Sydney blames child abuse on church’s loose entry standards for priests
Cardinal George Pell tells inquiry Catholic Church had not understood damage done to victims
Cardinal George Pell, head of the Catholic church in Australia. The cardinal has blamed a former culture of silence for the cover-up of child abuse by clergy, making it difficult to know the full extent of abuse. Photograph: Daniel Munoz/Reuters
Australia’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, has told an inquiry that the Catholic Church’s history of child abuse is a result of loose entry requirements for priests, past errors of judgment and inaction.
“The entry procedures ... for candidates in the middle of last century was much too loose,” Cardinal Pell, who is the Archbishop of Sydney and a former archbishop of Melbourne, told the Victorian child abuse inquiry in Melbourne yesterday.
Cardinal Pell apologised for the abuse committed by Catholic clergy. “I’m fully apologetic and absolutely sorry,” he said. “That is the basis for everything which I’ll say now.”
Cardinal Pell said the church had not understood the damage being done to victims of child sex abuse. “I would agree that we’ve been slow to address the anguish of the victims and dealt with it very imperfectly,” he told the inquiry. “I think a big factor in this was not simply to defend the name of the church. Many in the church did not understand just what damage was being done to the victims. We understand that better now.”
When it was put to him that a systemic cover-up had allowed paedophile priests to prey on children, Cardinal Pell said: “I would have to say there is significant truth in that.”
The cardinal said a former Melbourne archbishop, the late Sir Frank Little, covered up child abuse.
“Yes, Archbishop Little did cover up but he inherited a situation where there were no protocols and no procedures, and for some strange reason he never spoke to anybody about it,” he said.
Cardinal Pell also said he had discovered “in the last few weeks” that a former bishop of the Victorian town of Ballarat, Ronald Mulkearns, had destroyed documents. The inquiry has heard that Bishop Mulkearns was aware of child abuse accusations against a paedophile priest but simply moved him to a different parish.
He said that lives had been ruined as a result of cover-ups. “There’s no doubt about it that lives have been blighted. There’s no doubt about it that these crimes have contributed to too many suicides,” the cardinal said.
However, he said he did not believe there had been a culture of abuse in the church. “I think the bigger fault was that nobody would talk about it, nobody would mention it. I was certainly unaware of it.”