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Monday, February 29, 2016, 16:34

Abuse: Church admits 'enormous mistakes'

By Nicole Winfield and Rod McGuirk, Associated Press
Abuse: Church admits 'enormous mistakes'

Dominic Ridsdale, a survivor of priestly sex abuse, wears a shirt reading "No more silence" as he stands in front of the Quirinale hotel in Rome, Sunday, Feb 28, 2016. (Photo / Alessandra Tarantino, AP)

ROME - One of Pope Francis' top advisers acknowledged he had heard that an Australian Catholic school teacher who serially abused students might be involved in "pedophilia activity" in the 1970s, but said he had no idea how rampant clergy abuse was at the time, during an extraordinary public hearing of an Australian investigative commission just a few blocks from the Vatican.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, who testified via videolink from Rome to the Royal Commission in Sydney from Sunday night to early Monday morning, also conceded that the Catholic Church "has made enormous mistakes" in allowing thousands of children to be raped and molested by priests.

Two dozen Australian abuse survivors and their companions traveled across the globe to witness Pell's testimony in a Rome hotel's conference room, a significant show of accountability in the church's long-running abuse saga. The commission agreed to let Pell testify from Rome because he was too ill to travel to Australia.

"I'm not here to defend the indefensible," Pell said as the hearing began. "The church has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those." He said the church had "mucked things up and let people down" and for too long had dismissed credible abuse allegations "in absolutely scandalous circumstances."

The lead counsel assisting the commission, Gail Furness, questioned Pell about current Vatican efforts to address the crisis, as well as Pell's past in Australia, where he is accused of ignoring warnings when he was an assistant priest about Christian Brother Edward Dowlan, a teacher at St. Patrick's College in the Australian city of Ballarat. The deeply Catholic city has been devastated by disclosures about the huge number of abuse victims there, scores of whom killed themselves.

Abuse: Church admits 'enormous mistakes'

From left, Dominic Ridsdale, Phil Nagle, Tony Waroley, Stephen Woods and Peter Blenkiron, survivors and relatives of priestly sex abuse, stand in front of the Quirinale hotel in Rome on Feb 28, 2016. A group of Australian survivors of priestly sex abuse and their relatives are in Rome to witness one of the highest-ranking Vatican official, Cardinal George Pell, testify before an Australian commission investigating the depth of the abuse scandal Down Under. (Photo / Alessandra Tarantino, AP)

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