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Australian Cardinal Admits Negligence, Vows to Help Abuse Victims

Australian cardinal George Pell reads a statement to reporters as he leaves the Quirinale hotel after meeting members of the Australian group of relatives and victims of priestly sex abuses, in Rome, March 3, 2016.

A top Vatican official vowed Thursday to work to better protect children in his Australian hometown acknowledging he failed to act on an allegation of clergy sexual abuse decades ago.

Pope Francis’ top financial adviser Cardinal George Pell met with victims of abuse who traveled from Australia to Rome to witness his four days of testimony delivered to Australia’s Royal Commission via satellite.

The commission is investigating how the Catholic Church, as well as other institutions, handled cases of sex abuse of children over a span of decades.

Pell was called to testify each night from around 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. about his time as a priest in Ballarat and an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne. The 74-year-old cardinal said that he was a junior priest at the time that an unnamed student at St. Patrick’s College reported that Christian Brothers teacher Edward Dowlan was “misbehaving with boys.”

Testimony to the Royal Commission revealed that members of the Christian Brothers religious order preyed on dozens of children who attended its schools, which operated from the 1960s into the 1980s.

When asked by commission chairman Peter McClellan how he responded to the 1974 allegation, Pell admitted: “I didn’t do anything about it.” He acknowledged that “evil was done” and that he should have done more.

Pell added that he eventually raised concerns over the allegation to the school chaplain. Dowlan was later removed from the school but went on to abuse schoolchildren elsewhere until 1985.

The cardinal denied that he angrily dismissed another schoolboy’s accusations against the same cleric and that he tried to bribe one victim to keep quiet.

After meeting with nearly a dozen survivors at a Rome hotel, Pell in a statement pledged to help his hometown of Ballarat – a heavily Catholic city of 100,000, in Victoria – to recover from the string of suicides amongst sex abuse victims, noting that even “one suicide is too many.”

“With the experience of 40 years later, certainly I would agree that I should have done more,” Pell said, later adding: “I commit myself to work with the group…so that suicide is not seen as an option for those who are suffering.”