Fronting the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse Cardinal George Pell’s testimony was affected by his “imperfect memory”.
For the survivors of child sexual abuse, Pell’s continued assertions that he didn’t recall, couldn’t say or that “My memory is sometimes fallible”, would have surely been a disappointment.
And Pell fell back on that fallible memory over and over again throughout his testimony this morning, as council assisting the commission asked him about the conduct of numerous pedophile priests who were posted in Ballarat and Mildura over the 1970s and early 80s.
Asked about incidents that occurred during his time in the Ballarat diocese when he was a priest and then adviser to Bishop Ronald Mulkearns in the 1970s and early 80s Pell came up with numerous versions of “I don’t recall”.
There was “I don’t have any clear recollection”, “I can’t remember”, “I’m struggling to remember” and “I can’t clearly recall”.
While Pell has been questioned in the past about his knowledge of sexual abuse within the church, the focus has never before been on this much earlier period of his career.
Survivors watching the evidence either at home in Australia, or in Rome, were frustrated by the lack of detail in Pell’s answers.
They were left frustrated and without answers to their questions about how the Catholic Church handled allegations of sexual abuse.
Pell seemed to recognise that this was an issue, and conceded early on that at the time he tended to treat complaints somewhat skeptically.
“I must say in those days, if a priest denied such activity, I was very strongly inclined to accept the denial,” he said.
Early on, Pell acknowledged the church “had mucked things up”. “I’m not here to defend the indefensible,” he added.
But he also couldn’t shed a lot of light on how things ended up that way in the first place.
On December 13, 2018 it was announced Pope Francis has removed from his inner circle two cardinals including the Vatican’s economy minister, Australian George Pell.