In his remarks, Pell was apologetic and specific in his acknowledgment of wrongdoing. “I don’t think many, if any, persons in the leadership of the Catholic Church knew what a horrendous widespread mess we were sitting on. There’s no doubt about it that lives have been blighted,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it that these crimes have contributed to too many suicides.”
But though Pell says he never directly covered up abuse and that he is “committed to working to make improvements,” Pell’s track record tells a different story. Twenty years ago, Pell appeared in court with his colleague Father Gerald Francis Ridsdale while Ridsdale was on trial for sexual abuse. Ridsdale was eventually convicted of molesting and raping 40 children over a 26-year period. At the inquiry this week, Cardinal Pell defended his support for Ridsdale, saying, “At that stage nobody knew — well, I certainly didn’t — what proved to be the full extent of his infamous career. I did know that there was a very significant number of charges but I had no idea about all the other things that would unfold.” During the same period, Pell continued to authorize payment of a “frugal” allowance to Father Ronald Pickering after Pickering fled to England in the wake of sex abuse allegations and refused to cooperate with authorities. It was Pell’s successor who stopped the payments and launched an investigation.