Australia's top Catholic cardinal says abuse claims have fallen
By James Grubel
CANBERRA (Reuters) - The head of the Catholic Church in Australia on Monday 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, but added that the number of cases had dropped significantly since the church started taking stronger action.
Cardinal George Pell, an advisor to Pope Francis on Vatican reforms, told a parliamentary hearing the church had been slow to address the suffering of victims and again issued an apology.
"I am fully apologetic, and absolutely sorry," said Pell in a tense hearing marked by at times angry questioning over the church's compensation and investigations. Pell was questioned for more than four hours.
Pell said the number of reports of abuse by clergy members peaked in the 1970s and 80s, but had fallen as the church changed its approach.
"The evidence of misbehaving, crimes, has been significantly reduced. I hope the worst is behind us," Pell said, adding 300 people in Victoria had received compensation for abuse.
Child abuse scandals have haunted the Church for more than two decades in Australia, Europe and the United States, with Ireland shutting its embassy to the Vatican in 2011 due to strained relations over the abuse issue.
Pell was giving evidence to a Victorian state inquiry in Melbourne, in relation to his role as Archbishop of Melbourne from 1996 to 2001 when he implemented protocols for dealing with abuse complaints.
Before a packed public gallery, with many in tears during his testimony, Pell issued another apology to the victims of sexual abuse, and said church leaders in the past had been reluctant to share information about accused priests. Continued...