The Vatican has praised Cardinal George Pell and a group of child sex abuse survivors who flew to Rome to hear him give evidence by video link to a royal commission sitting in Sydney.
But Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said in a statement the “sensationalist” media coverage of Cardinal Pell’s testimony gave the impression the Catholic Church had done little or nothing to address the issue of clergy sex abuse, when that was not the case.
The head of the Holy See press office also said the recent awarding of a best picture Oscar to the film Spotlight about the uncovering of clergy sex abuse in Boston, had a similar sensationalist effect.
Cardinal Pell gave evidence for four nights from Rome’s Quirinale Hotel, admitting the church had made “enormous mistakes” and saying he regretted at times putting the church before victims.
But abuse survivors in the audience were unimpressed with his denials that he was aware of offending by pedophile priests when he served in the Ballarat diocese in Victoria and his shifting of blame to other clergy for cover-ups and scandals.
Many of the survivors were abused by Australia’s worst pedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, and fathers at a Christian Brothers school in the Ballarat diocese.
“Cardinal Pell must be accorded the appropriate acknowledgement for his dignified and coherent personal testimony – 20 hours of dialogue with the royal commission,” Fr Lombardi said.
He said that what emerged from such hearings was “an objective and lucid picture of the errors committed in many ecclesiastical environments, this time in Australia, during the past decades”.
“This is certainly useful with a view to a common ‘purification of memory’,” he said.
“Recognition is also due to many members of the group of victims who came from Australia for demonstrating their willingness to establish constructive dialogue with Cardinal Pell and with the representative of the Commission for the Protection of Minors, Father Hans Zollner SJ, of the Pontifical Gregorian University.”
Fr Lombardi said the group had the prospect of continuing those connections with the aim of devising ways to prevent further abuse.
He said Pope Francis and his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI had shown “courageous commitment” to deal with clergy sex abuse crises in the US, Ireland, Germany, Belgium and Holland.
And the Vatican’s website had more than 60 documents and interventions dedicated to “Abuse of minors: the Church’s response”, Fr Lombardi said.
“From this perspective, the events in Rome of the last few days may be interpreted in a positive light.”