Pell says sexual abuse in church 'taken out of context'
FACING questions from a Royal Commission, Cardinal George Pell said claims about the prevalence of child sexual within the Catholic Church may have been "taken out of context".
Cardinal Pell was quizzed on earlier comments that he might have described the number of allegations as being "exaggerated" .
He said he had no recollection of describing the numbers as exaggerated but said it was important the rate of abuse allegations were "made accurately".
"What I probably did say was that they were taken out of context and not compared with the very significant number of offences that occur within other institutions and the overwhelming number of instances that occur outside of institutions."
Later in the questioning, Cardinal Pell said he understood about 4% of Catholic priests were accused of child sexual abuse in Australia.
The Royal Commission heard that since 1952, 842 priests held positions within the Sydney Dioceses and about 55 of those were accused of sexual abuse.
Cardinal Pell questioned the figures based on evidence he has been previously shown, although he could not recall its source.
Pell says sexual abuse victims seen as 'enemies of church'
CARDINAL George Pell says the Vatican viewed victims of sexual abuse by religious figures in the early 1990s as being "enemies of the church" who were attempting to attack the institution.
Australia's best-known Catholic figure - who is soon to take up a position in Rome as the Head of Vatican Finances - is facing questions from the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse, specifically regarding the church's "Towards Healing" process.
Cardinal Pell conceded that by 1994, Australian Catholic churches were in talks with their international counterparts about what was becoming a flood of sexual abuse complaints.
When asked how the Vatican viewed the mounting claims, Cardinal Pell said he felt the Holy See was "way behind (Australia's) understanding of the challenge".
"It was inadequate," Cardinal Pell said.
"The attitude of some people in the Vatican was that accusations were being made against priests - they were being made by enemies of the church to make trouble, therefore they should be dealt with skeptically.
Cardinal Pell said he knew people "who loved the church" were at the time saying the sexual abuse allegations were not being properly handled.
The most recent public hearings at the royal commission have focused on the Catholic Church and its Towards Healing program, which was set up for people who have been abused by clergy, the ABC reported.
Cardinal Pell is expected to be questioned on his knowledge of the Church's legal battle in 2007 with abuse victim John Ellis, who was abused by Father Aidan Duggan in Sydney between 1974 and 1979.
Last year, the Australian Lawyers Alliance has called on the Catholic Church to "put its money where its mouth is" and use its vast wealth to properly compensate victims who fell prey to paedophile priests.
During hearings of the Victorian parliamentary inquiry into sexual abuse in the Church, Cardinal Pell accepted the Church could pay victims "proper compensation".
ALA spokesman Dr Andrew Morrison SC said Cardinal Pell told the inquiry the Church would pay whatever compensation the government thought proper, and "he should be taken at his word".
"Governments throughout Australia should immediately make the Church trustees liable for the conduct of the Church and the Church should in turn be held liable for the conduct of its priests," Dr Morrison said.
"The limitation period restrictions on suing should also be lifted."
Dr Morrison agreed with Cardinal Pell that the Church should be no more liable to victims than other institutions, but the Catholic Church was "immune" from law suits due to its "peculiar structure".
"This includes Cardinal George Pell's $30 million residence in Rome paid for by the Roman Catholic Church in Australia.
"It is time that money was devoted to compensating the victims of the cover up that he has now acknowledged occurred," Dr Morrison said.