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Catholic Church official testifies during Australian abuse inquiry

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Peter Blenkiron, center, a child sex abuse victim, looks on in front of the Quirinale hotel in Rome, Italy, on Sunday. Blenkiron's T-shirt features a picture of himself when he was young.REUTERS

ROME — Australians who were raped and molested by Catholic priests when they were children heard a top Vatican cardinal describe what he knew about their attackers when he testified Sunday before an investigative commission in Rome.

''I'm not here to defend the indefensible,'' Cardinal George Pell said at the start of his testimony. "The church has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those.''

Two dozen Australian sex abuse survivors and their companions traveled to be on hand when Pell testified via video link before Australia's Royal Commission.

It was the third time that the Australian cardinal, Pope Francis' top financial adviser, has testified about the sex abuse scandal, but the current round has generated intense international attention because it is taking place a short walk from the Vatican.

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The commission, which is more than halfway through a $300 million government-authorized inquiry into how all Australian institutions dealt with abuse, agreed to let Pell testify from Rome because he was too ill to travel home. Two weeks ago, it also agreed to let victims be on hand to recreate the type of public hearing that Pell would be facing in Australia.

In a statement Sunday, Pell repeated his support for the Royal Commission's work, vowed to meet individually with victims who had traveled to Rome, and said he hoped the coming days ''will eventually lead to healing for everyone.''

David Ridsdale, an abuse victim, said he was grateful that the horror of what transpired in Ballarat was finally getting known outside of Australia.

A huge number of abuse victims are from the deeply Catholic town in Australia's Victoria state, and scores of them have killed themselves in a cluster of abuse-related suicides.

Ridsdale said survivors wanted Pell to ''stand up and take responsibility on behalf of the church'' for what transpired in Pell's own hometown.

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The commission's current hearings relate to Ballarat and how the Melbourne archdiocese responded to allegations of abuse, including when Pell served as a Melbourne auxiliary bishop.

Pell, who was born and raised in Ballarat, was ordained a priest there in 1966 and was a consultant to Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns.

During the opening address at a Royal Commission hearing in Ballarat last week, the lawyer assisting the commissioner said that as a consultant, Pell would have been responsible for giving advice to the bishop on the appointments of priests to parishes.

Pell has defended his response to the abuse scandal while a bishop and later the archbishop of Melbourne, though he has expressed regret over encounters with victims seeking compensation, saying he and others in the church failed in their moral and pastoral responsibilities to them.