Cardinal George Pell has made a public apology to sexual abuse victim John Ellis but his way of saying sorry has angered some people.
Cardinal George Pell has ended his time before the royal commission into child sexual abuse with a public acknowledgment of the wrongs done to John Ellis, a former altar boy preyed upon by a pedophile priest.
But acknowledging Mr Ellis himself, when he was sitting just metres away, seemed to prove too hard for the cardinal.
Dr Pell concluded two-and-a-half days of evidence to the commission by apologising for what he had described as regrettable mistakes and misunderstandings over years of dealing with Mr Ellis.
Reading from a statement, Dr Pell said that, as the former archbishop of Sydney and speaking personally, the church had failed Mr Ellis in many ways.
“I want to acknowledge his suffering and the impact of this terrible affair on his life,” Dr Pell told the commission.
“As the then archbishop, I have to take ultimate responsibility, and this I do.
“At the end of this gruelling appearance for both of us at this royal commission, I want to publicly say sorry to him for the hurt caused him by the mistakes made,” Dr Pell said.
Dr Pell did not look at Mr Ellis while reading the statement, instead keeping his eyes down on the page.
When he was finished, Dr Pell walked from the hearing room, passing directly in front of Mr Ellis without a glance.
Observers in the room became agitated during the statement, with some people calling out “look at him” to Dr Pell and pointing to where Mr Ellis sat – in the front row as he had throughout the 12-day hearing.
Mr Ellis said nothing, only telling TV crews as he left the building afterwards that he was “exhausted”.
Mr Ellis was sexually abused from the age of 13 to 17 by Father Aidan Duggan in the Sydney parish of Bass Hill in the 1970s.
Despite his experiences he became an accomplished lawyer before the weight of what had happened hit him more than 20 years later and his life fell apart.
When he sought compensation from the church, it rejected an offer to settle for $100,000 and lawyers instructed by Dr Pell proceeded to aggressively defend a court case brought by Mr Ellis.
The church ultimately spent $1.5 million on winning the case and still making payments worth $570,000 to Mr Ellis.
On Thursday, Dr Pell repeated his position that he instructed lawyers to go to court because he thought Mr Ellis wanted millions in compensation.
Although his advisers knew Mr Ellis had sought $100,000 and gave evidence that Dr Pell knew as well, the cardinal said he “wasn’t in the loop at all”.
“Perhaps they all presumed that I was,” he said.
Dr Pell also disputed that, in a 2009 meeting, he had told Mr Ellis that his treatment amounted to “legal abuse” but told the commission: “It’s not a bad catch-all or summing up for many of the things that happened.”
The commission has concluded its hearing regarding Mr Ellis’s case but Dr Pell may still be called before the inquiry when it examines matters concerning the Melbourne archdiocese, where he was formerly archbishop.
Dr Pell takes up a new position in Rome, managing the finances of the Vatican, on Monday.