“I call Cardinal George Pell.’’
On those words the man they’d all been queuing to see strode into the child sexual abuse Royal Commission hearing room, the last of about 150 people to take his seat.
He swore by Almighty God he would tell the truth in the commission’s investigation into how the Catholic Church came to vigorously dispute the damages case brought by former high flying lawyer John Ellis, who was sexually abused for years by a priest in the Bass Hill parish from when he was a 13-year-old altar boy.
It was a fumbling start as the emeritus archbishop of Sydney, who next Monday takes charge of the Vatican’s finances, admitted his statement to the commission had been incomplete.
Then he couldn’t remember how.
“Sorry about that,’’ he said.
“When you get a little bit older, things come up slowly”.
Cardinal Pell said up until 1996 Australia was leading the way in the Catholic Church’s treatment of victims of sexual abuse by priests. He said it was “a mighty issue for us because it is so contrary to what we should be about”.
The attitude of some people in the Vatican was that accusations against priests “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.
But “whatever the deficiencies, I think we were ahead of some countries”, he said.
Cardinal Pell said the trajectory of the Ellis litigation “would have been different” if a proper assessment had been made by the church when he first complained to the Sydney Archdiocese.
He said he moved “vigorously” to address the issue when he became Melbourne Archbishop in 1996: the “Melbourne Response” was put together within 100 days.
The Cardinal's evidence continues.