Vatican official who didn't act on abuse claim: 'I should have done more'

Vatican Treasurer: Plausible Abuse Allegations Not Fully Investigated

ROME -- A senior Vatican official said he should have done more to stop the sexual abuse of children in the Catholic Church, acknowledging that he was told of at least one priest "misbehaving" with boys at an Australian school.

Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican's treasurer, said he did nothing when a boy at a Christian Brothers school in rural Victoria state mentioned the behavior "casually in conversation" in the mid-1970s.

"With the experience of 40 years later, certainly I would agree that I should have done more," Pell said while giving evidence via video link from Rome to Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse.

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Vatican official who didn't act on abuse claim: 'I should have done more'
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - OCTOBER 04: Australian cardinal George Pell attends a mass for the opening of the Synod on the themes of family held by Pope Francis at St. Peter's Basilica on October 4, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The director of the Holy See press office Father Federico Lombardi on Saturday reacting to revelations by a high-ranking Vatican official that he is in a gay relationship said 'the decision to make such a pointed statement on the eve of the opening of the Synod appears very serious and irresponsible, since it aims to subject the Synod assembly to undue media pressure'. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, VATICAN - OCTOBER 20: Pope Francis greets Australian Cardinal George Pell as he arrives at the Synod Hall for a session of Synod on The Themes Of Family on October 20, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican. The Synod of Bishops on the family moves into its third and final week. Over the first two weeks the Church leaders have been seeking to resolve tensions between the different visions of family life and ministry. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: (FILES) Cardinal George Pell, Sydney Archbishop and the head of the Catholic Church in Australia, holds court at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, 03 June 2002. The conservative Pell has emerged as a candidate to succeed Pope John Paul II. AFP PHOTO/Torsten BLACKWOOD (Photo credit should read TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
(AUSTRALIA OUT) File photo dated 11 May 2003 of Archbishop George Pell holding mass at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney who was one of 31 new cardinals named by the Vatican on 28 September 2003. Pell, age 62, has made headlines in Australia for refusing communion to gays, for opposing women priests, for saying homosexuality was a bigger health hazard than smoking and that abortion was a worse moral scandal than sexual abuse by priests. AFP PHOTO/FAIRFAX/Robert PEARCE (Photo credit should read ROBERT PEARCE/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY, Vatican: Newly appointed cardinal George Pell of Australia kisses Pope John Paul II's hand on St Peter square 21 October 2003 at the Vatican during the ordination ceremony of new cardinals. The 30 cardinals appointed today will bring the Consistory to 135 cardinal-electors who will meet in conclave to elect a next Pope after his death. AFP PHOTO PAOLO COCCO (Photo credit should read PAOLO COCCO/AFP/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA: (FILES) Cardinal George Pell, Sydney Archbishop and the head of the Catholic Church in Australia, talks to the media outside St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, 01 April 2004. The conservative Pell has emerged as a candidate to succeed Pope John Paul II. AFP PHOTO/Torsten BLACKWOOD (Photo credit should read TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
VATICAN CITY - OCTOBER 25: Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell (L) and the personal secretary of Pope Benedict XVI Georg Ganswein (R) attend the weekly audience in Saint Peter's Square October 25, 2006 in Vatican City. (Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)
Cardinal George Pell conducts the opening mass of World Youth Day (WYD), in Sydney on July 15, 2008. Pope Benedict XVI who did not attend this mass as he rests, is to lead the six-day celebration starting today for the event which is expected to attract up to 125,000 international visitors and that will culminate in a papal mass before an estimated 500,000 people in Sydney July 20. AFP PHOTO/William WEST (Photo credit should read WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 15: In this handout photo provided by World Youth Day, His Eminence Cardinal George Pell, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney arrives for the Opening Mass of Welcome of World Youth Day Sydney 2008 at Barangaroo on July 15, 2008 in Sydney, Australia. Organised every two to three years by the Catholic Church, World Youth Day (WYD) is an invitation from the Pope to the youth of the world to celebrate their faith. The celebration, being held in Sydney from July 15, 2008 to July 20, 2008, will mark the first visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to Australia. (Photo by World Youth Day via Getty Images)
Cardinal George Pell, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, unveils Australia's first pure gold (L) and silver (R) coins commemorating the canonisation of Mary MacKillop in Sydney on September 30, 2010. MacKillop is set to become Australia's first saint when she is canonised by Pope Benedict XVI in Rome on October 17, 101 years after her death. Only 7,500 silver coins will be issued by The Perth Mint, while the stricter mintage of 2,010 gold coins recognises the year in which she became a saint. AFP PHOTO / Torsten BLACKWOOD (Photo credit should read TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images)
Sydney Archbishop Cardinal George Pell speaks to the media during a press conference in Sydney on November 13, 2012. The Catholic Church should not be the scapegoat in an Australian inquiry into child sex abuse, the country's most senior Catholic cleric said November 13 as he accused the press of a persistent campaign. AFP PHOTO/ROSLAN RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP/Getty Images)
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 26: Cardinal George Pell arrives for his appearance at the Royal Commission on March 26, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. Cardinal Pell is facing the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney to answer questions about whether he was involved in compensation discussions related to the case of John Ellis who was sexually abused by Father Aidan Duggan.Cardinal Pell will soon move to Rome to undertake a senior role at the Vatican. (Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images)
Australian Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy of the Holy See, attends a press conference on March 31, 2014 in Vatican. Cardinal George Pell and Italian writer Francesco Lozupone presented the book 'Co-responsability and transparency in the administration of church property'. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters hold placards outside the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney on February 29, 2016, as Australia's Cardinal George Pell gave evidence via video-link from a hotel in Rome to the Royal Commission rather than appearing in person as he has a heart condition. Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell admitted on February 29 the Catholic Church 'mucked up' in dealing with paedophile priests and vowed he would not 'defend the indefensible' before an Australian inquiry. AFP PHOTO / WIlliam WEST / AFP / WILLIAM WEST (Photo credit should read WILLIAM WEST/AFP/Getty Images)

Pell's four-day questioning over cases involving hundreds of children in Australia from the 1960s to the 1990s has taken on wider implications about the accountability of church leaders, given his high rank within the church.

There were audible gasps when, during a testy exchange earlier in the week, Pell said of abuse by a priest who was later convicted of 138 offences against 53 victims: "It's a sad story and it wasn't of much interest to me."

Pell said on Wednesday he regretted the comment, which was seized upon by victims and the Australian media as evidence of the Catholic Church's uncaring attitude.

"I was very confused, I responded poorly ... it was badly expressed," he said on the last day of the hearing, which required him to give evidence late at night through to the early hours in Italy.

Pell has told the inquiry that the church made "enormous mistakes" and "catastrophic" choices by refusing to believe abused children, shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish and over-relying on counseling of priests to solve the problem.

Pell also said he was deceived and lied to by superiors as a young priest in the 1970s. He denied that, as a bishop in the 1990s, he tried to bribe one victim to remain silent and that he ignored complaints, or that he was complicit in the transfer of a pedophile priest.

Pell was asked on Thursday if he agreed with some Australian commentators' opinion that he was "the target of a witch-hunt."

"I've never expressed such a view, but I must confess the idea has occurred to me," Pell said.

Pell's failing memories of what he knew about many individual cases has angered many of the 15 abuse victims and supporters who traveled to Rome to watch him give evidence.

The victims have called for a meeting with Pope Francis. They had successfully lobbied to be in the same room as Pell after he said he was unable to travel to his native Australia because of heart problems.

They are to meet Pell after the hearings as well as Father Hans Zollner, a member of the Vatican's commission advising the pope on how to prevent abuse.

"It is the responsibility of all humanity to protect children, not to stand by and pass the buck," said Tony Wardley, who was abused as a child. "I hope this did not seem like a Catholic-bashing exercise, but all religions that worship their god or gods must realize that the messengers are only messengers. They are not above everyone else."

Church sexual abuse broke into the open in 2002, when it was revealed that U.S. bishops in the Boston area moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them. Similar cover-ups have since been discovered around the world and tens of millions of dollars have been paid in compensation.

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