The Vatican's chief finance officer said the Catholic church in Australia "mucked things up" in its dealings with pedophile priests.
Australian Cardinal George Pell, too weak to travel to his homeland, testified Sunday from a hotel in Rome via a videolink to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney.
Pell told the commission: "I am not here to defend the indefensible."
The cardinal said the Australian church had made "enormous mistakes" over the years that resulted in thousands of children being raped and molested by priests.
In the past, Pell said, it was "much, much more difficult for the child to be believed," and their allegations were often dismissed "in absolutely scandalous circumstances."
He said, "There were very, very, very plausible allegations made by responsible people that were not followed up sufficiently."
The cardinal's testimony came just hours before Spotlight, the film that depicts the Boston Globe's investigation into child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church, won the Academy Award for best picture.
Notorious pedophile priest
Pell denied having anything to do with the transferring of Australia's most notorious pedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, to various parishes around Ballarat, where he preyed on children for decades.
Pell was a consultant to former Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns.
"I have just re-read the file of Ridsdale. The priest — the ex priest — and the way he was dealt with was a catastrophe. A catastrophe for the victims and a catastrophe for the church," Pell said.
"In those days," Pell said, "if a priest denied such activity, I was very strongly inclined to accept the denial."
David Ridsdale, who was abused by his uncle, said he was glad the horror of what happened to him and others in Ballarat is finally receiving world attention.
David Ridsdale, who was among a group of Australians who traveled to Rome, said, "We're here to seek the truth. We're here to heal our city.We have the highest suicide rate among men in Australia.We have some of the worst drinking and violence problems.And it all stems from that abuse."
The commission cannot file criminal charges, but commissioners can refer what they believe are criminal matters to police and prosecutors.