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'Evil was done,' cardinal admits to abuse victims

March 3, 2016

Cardinal George Pell, who is under fire for his handling of sexual abuse by priests in Australia, has admitted that he should have done more to prevent the acts. Pell vowed to work with survivors to ensure protection.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy of the Holy See, attends a press conference on March 31, 2014 in Vatican (Photo: ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Solaro

Cardinal George Pell on Thursday held a two-hour meeting with some dozen Australian sexual abuse survivors who had flown to Rome for the hearings. The meeting was described by the spokesmen for the cardinal and the survivors as "highly emotional."

The meeting between the Australian cardinal - who is now the Vatican's treasurer - and the abuse victims came just hours after Pell admitted to the Australian Royal Commission that he "should have done more" to follow up on claims that a priest in his charge was "misbehaving" with boys at an Australian school in the 1970s.

"I have just met with about a dozen of the Ballarat survivors, support people and officials, and I've heard each of their stories and of their suffering," Pell told reporters. "It was hard."

'One suicide is too many'

Referring to the high number of suicides linked to the abuse, Pell said, "One suicide is too many, too many."

"There have been many such tragic suicides. I commit myself to working with the group to strive to stop this so that suicide is not seen as an option for those who are suffering," he added.

David Ridsdale, a survivor who alleged in 1993 that Pell had tried to bribe him to keep silent about abuse, said he was satisfied with the latest encounter with the cardinal.

Pell, who has denied the bribery accusation, said the goodness of the people of Ballarat, where much of the abuse took place, "was not extinguished by the evil that was done."

Victims' families demand action

Anthony Foster, a parent of two victims, held pictures of his two daughters who were abused by a priest.

"A Catholic priest was raping them when this photo was taken, at this age. And that's why we have been fighting for so long," he said.

Foster said he demanded "humility" from the Church, and wanted priests to do "everything they can to restore the lives of all the victims out there."

"Words is what we get. We need some real action, we need the whole weight of the Church put behind helping these victims and ensuring it doesn't happen again. That's what we need," he added.

Foster also said he believed that Pell was not completely honest to the Royal Commission about his role in covering up abuse.

The survivors also called for a meeting with Pope Francis before they depart from Rome on Friday night.

shs/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP)