Gail Furness, the lead counsel assisting the commission, questioned Pell about the Vatican's current efforts to address the scandal of child abuse, and about how he dealt with abuse allegations in his role as educator and adviser to Bishop Mulkearns.
Now 85, the retired Mulkearns is known to have moved Gerald Ridsdale, one of Australia's most notorious abusers, between parishes for several years while being fully aware of the former-priest's abuses. Ridsdale is known to have committed more than 130 offenses while chaplain at Ballarat's St. Alipius school in the 1960s-1980s.
Pell himself lived with Ridsdale in a seminary in the early 1970s, but stressed that at the time, he had been unaware of the priest's crimes.
He voiced his criticism for the way Bishop Mulkearns had dealt with Ridsdale, saying it was "a catastrophe for the victims and a catastrophe for the Church."
Mulkearns, he said, "shifted" Ridsdale and gave him "chance after chance after chance, shifted him around, and, initially at least, trusted excessively in the possible benefits of psychological help."
"If effective action had been taken earlier, an enormous amount of suffering would have been avoided," Cardinal Pell said, and admitted that while he is now aware of Ridsdale's crimes, at the time they lived together he was unaware of both the abuses and Bishop Mulkearns' knowledge of them.
In addition to Risdale, other cases Cardinal Pell was questioned on were those of Fr. Paul David Ryan, who in 2006 was imprisoned for three charges of indecent assault, and on numerous accusations against members of the Christian Brothers who were teaching in Catholic schools at the time.
Pell recognized that there had been "a pattern" of moving known pedophile priests, including Ryan and Ridsdale, under Mulkearns, and said the bishop would be a good candidate for the Vatican's new tribunal in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In June 2015, Pope Francis approved of the establishment of a special tribunal within the congregation to specifically judge bishops accused of protecting priests that had sexually abused children.
When questioned about the Vatican's current stance in terms of reporting child abuse, Cardinal Pell stressed that "the law of the land should be followed."
In a Feb. 28 statement released by his office, the cardinal emphasized his support for the commission's work, and said he would be available to meet with the abuse survivors who have come to Rome for the hearing.
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He expressed his hope that the coming days "will eventually lead to healing for everyone," and said he had tied a yellow ribbon to the fence of the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes inside the Vatican Gardens as a sign of solidarity with the "Loud Fence" initiative, which was launched in Ballarat to support abuse survivors.