Cardinal George Pell has admitted he is ashamed of the Catholic Church’s response to child sexual abuse and says he occasionally wishes he had responded differently.
But a week after being freed from prison after the High Court quashed five abuse convictions, he says it grieves him when people accuse him of being anti-victim or not sufficiently sympathetic.
He said he had devoted a lot of time and energy to get justice, help and compensation for survivors of abuse within the church, including in establishing the Melbourne Archdiocese response in the 1990s and later working with Towards Healing in Sydney.
“I worked hard and when it wasn’t easy or fashionable to get something in place, not run by clerics, that would give some protection and redress for these people,” he told commentator Andrew Bolt in an interview on Tuesday night.
Because of that role he finds irony in the fact he was accused himself.
“I think it’s a bit ironic that I’m the figurehead, the scapegoat that has copped most of this because what I did very early in 1996 is set up the Melbourne Response,” he said.
But the cardinal defended the church’s actions, saying priests were trained to think well of people and instinct in the past was to disbelieve allegations as gossip unless substantiated.
He said “it wasn’t as though we were alone in this” when asked about police working with bishops to move pedophiles, but added he didn’t know about that at the time.
Cardinal Pell revealed he was “wounded” by his experience in prison, though it was not a typical prison experienced.
He described his cell as being at the “Toorak end” of the cell block where he had become friends with other prisoners.
One of the men was convicted of murder but Cardinal Pell says he doesn’t believe he is guilty and that his 405 days behind bars has given him an interest in people who are “wrongly condemned”.
The cardinal is now staying at a seminary in Sydney and says he plans to stay in the city though will spend some time in Rome.
He has ongoing support from Pope Francis, he said.
© AAP 2020