CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — One of Pope Francis' top advisers told an Australian inquiry on Wednesday that he should have done more to ensure a suspected pedophile cleric did not continue to abuse children.
Australian Cardinal George Pell told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse this week that as an assistant priest in the Australian city of Ballarat in the 1970s, he had heard rumors that a local Christian Brothers school teacher Edward Dowlan could be involved in "pedophilia activity."
Pell testified that he raised his concerns with the St. Patricks' College chaplain who told Pell that the Christian Brothers order was "dealing with" the allegations. Dowlan was later removed from the school.
Pell, now the pope's top financial adviser, told the inquiry on Wednesday that he should have "ensured that the matter was properly treated."
"I would say that in the light of my present understanding, ... I would concede I should have done more," Pell told the inquiry in Sydney via videolink from a Rome hotel.
"I regret that I didn't do more at that stage," Pell added.
The royal commission — which is Australia's highest form of investigation — is investigating how Pell dealt with abuse allegations as a priest, educator and adviser to the Ballarat bishop, as well as how the Melbourne archdiocese responded to allegations of abuse, including when Pell served as a Melbourne auxiliary bishop.
Pell has repeatedly denied allegations that he ignored warnings that Dowlan was abusing students. Dowlan was sentenced to six years in prison last year for abusing 20 boys.
Pell told the inquiry he did not believe it was appropriate to relocate suspected pedophile clerics and allow them to continue abusing different children.
"I don't believe that now and I didn't believe that then. My whole assumption ... was that the brothers would be dealing adequately with the matter," Pell said.
"I was not aware then of their poor record, which I learnt about later, in dealing with such things. I presumed that when they shifted him they would have also arranged for some appropriate help," he added.
Pell said that "when I was told that they were dealing with it at that time, I was quite content."
Wednesday was the 74-year-old cleric's third day of testifying to the inquiry, which is investigating decades of abuse within churches and a variety of other organizations.
Two dozen Australian abuse victims and their companions traveled across the globe to witness Pell's testimony in a hotel conference room, a significant show of accountability in the church's long-running abuse saga.
One those victims, David Ridsdale, said Pell had never before conceded that he should have done more to prevent abuse in Ballarat.
The victims announced on Wednesday that they had requested a meeting with the pope before they return to Australia on Friday.