Cardinal George Pell has used his farewell sermon to offer a frank apology to victims of sexual abuse by “priests, religious leaders and others” within the Catholic church.
The apology, delivered from the pulpit of Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral, was dismissed by a small group of protesters who were barred from the service and stood outside, including an alleged victim of church sexual abuse.
“I apologise once again to the victims and their families for the terrible suffering that has been brought to bear by these crimes,” Cardinal Pell told a Mass of Thanksgiving on Thursday night.
Speaking to a congregation of several hundred people, Dr Pell acknowledged that child sexual abuse within the Catholic church had caused a “terrible blight”.
The most basic procedural improvements to tackle and prevent child sexual abuse had been put in place by the Catholic church around 1996 and still needed refinement, he said.
The ongoing royal commission into child sexual abuse, being held in Sydney, was playing an important and useful “public service” in allowing victims to air their experiences, he said.
Dr Pell said he looked forward to its recommendations.
He spent two and a half days giving evidence to the royal commission this week, including on Thursday when he issued an apology to former altar boy John Ellis, who was abused from age 13 to 17 by pedophile priest, Father Aidan Duggan.
Dr Pell’s apology at St Mary’s Cathedral was flatly dismissed by the three protesters who were not allowed into the service and stood outside in the rain holding placards.
“If he really meant the apology why didn’t they let us in so he could say it to our faces?” one told AAP.
The protest group included Stephanie Calabornes, who said she was sexually abused as a child and more recently at a church accommodation centre.
“Cardinal Pell is actually the leader of that institution, with regards the diocese, so I pretty much blame him as the head,” she told AAP.
Another protester, Peter Clamp, said he held the Catholic Church rather than Dr Pell responsible for the levels of sexual abuse.
“They’ve done nothing about it and they haven’t shown any real contrition until recently,” he added.
Dr Pell leaves Australia for the Vatican on Monday to take up a new post as chief of the Holy See’s finances, after 13 years of service as the eighth Archbishop of Sydney.
He leaves as a polarising figure in the eyes of many Australians. He is revered as a deep and critical thinker by many within the Catholic church.
But others see him as a more cold and calculating figure, who deliberately defended allegations of child sex abuse, despite knowing the allegations were true.
Dr Pell said he was well aware that his new job meant swapping “one set of burdens for another”.
Following the Mass, abuse victim John Hennessy said he was disappointed Dr Pell had not invited victims of abuse to his final service, particularly as he intended to apologise from the pulpit.
“It would have proved that he was fair dinkum. It would have shown that he meant everything he said,” Mr Hennessy told AAP.
“On his last public mass in Australia … (to show) he has learned from the past and he has taken the victims into his confidence.” – AAP
IMAGE: The Archdiocese of Sydney holds a Mass of Thanksgiving for his Eminence George Cardinal Pell AC. Sydney, Thursday, March 27, 2014. It is being held in appreciation of his service as the eighth Archbishop of Sydney. (AAP Image/Jane Dempster)