Despite having testified before the commission twice before on the same charges, Cardinal Pell offered to testify again and was summoned to return to Australia for deposition in December. However, the cardinal's doctor advised against the long flight due to health issues.
As a result, Cardinal Pell volunteered to appear by way of video conference from Rome, which took place Feb. 28 – March 3.
A group of 15 abuse survivors and their family members traveled from Australia to Rome in order to be present for the hearing.
The hearing largely focused on Cardinal Pell's time as a priest in Ballarat and how the Melbourne archdiocese responded to abuse accusations, including during the time that the cardinal served as its auxiliary bishop.
Cardinal Pell was ordained a prest of the Diocese of Ballarat in 1966, later serving as a consulter to Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who oversaw the diocese from 1971-1997. He was appointed auxiliary bishop for the Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1987, and was named its archbishop in 1996.
Cases touched on throughout the four-day hearing were those of Gerald Ridsdale; Fr. Paul David Ryan, who in 2006 was imprisoned for three charges of indecent assault; Fr. Bill Baker; Fr. Peter Searson; and on numerous accusations against members of the Christian Brothers who were teaching in Catholic schools at the time, including Br. Dowlan and Br. Leo Fitzgerald.
Pell began the hearing by stressing, "I'm not here to defend the indefensible," and acknowledging that the Church "has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those."
He stressed throughout the hearing that in each case he had acted in accordance with the expectations that came with his responsibilities, and that abuse cases in both Ballarat and Melbourne had been hidden from him by his superiors.
On the second day he maintained that though he had been an adviser to Bishop Mulkearns in the 1970s and was aware that Gerald Ridsdale had changed parishes more than was usual, the bishop had not told him the moves were made due to allegations of pedophilia.
Pell said the situation was similar as auxiliary bishop in Melbourne, and that while accusations of pedophilia had been made against Fr. Searson to the Catholic Education office in the diocese, neither the office nor Archbishop Little told him the allegations were of that nature when he was briefed.
"In both cases for some reason, they were covering up," the cardinal said March 2, explaining that he was under the impression the accusations were related to other topics.
(Story continues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
"People did not want the status quo to be disturbed," he said, suggesting that one reason he was kept in the dark could be "because they would have feared that I would not accept the status quo."
Cardinal Pell said he was "not cut from the same cloth," and that as a bishop who was known for being outspoken, he would have gone against the expectation to cover up at the time.
With hindsight, he expressed regret "that I didn't do more at that stage," adding that "in retrospect I might have been a little more pushy" when issues came up and he didn't seem to have all the facts.
On the last day of the hearing Cardinal Pell denied accusations that he had attempted to bribe David Ridsdale to stay quiet.
Ridsdale has alleged that when he phoned Pell, then auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, for help in 1993, Pell attempted to bribe him not to go to the police.
Cardinal Pell insisted that compensation never came up in the conversation but that David had confided that he had been abused by his uncle and wanted help from the Church.
He maintained that David asked for a "quiet process" within the Church, due to the stress a public investigation would place on his grandmother when she found out about her son Gerald Ridsdale's crimes.