Australian victims of child sex abuse in the Roman Catholic Church returned home on Sunday disappointed they did not meet Pope Francis and angry with the evidence a senior Vatican official gave to an inquiry investigating the abuse.
The Vatican said it did not grant a meeting with the group of about 15 abuse victims because they had not made their request through the proper channels while they were in Rome to observe Cardinal George Pell testify.
Pell, who is now the Vatican's treasurer, became the highest ranking Vatican official to give testimony on the issue of systemic abuse within the church. His evidence to the Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse on cases involving hundreds of children in Australia from the 1960s to the 1990s has taken on wider implications about the accountability of church leaders.
"The simple fact is it's the pope's loss," abuse survivor David Ridsdale told reporters at Melbourne airport regarding the lack of a meeting, according to the Australian Associated Press. "He misses out. It's not our loss."
Ridsdale and the other survivors had traveled to Rome to observe Pell give evidence via videolink after a heart condition stopped the cardinal traveling to Sydney.
Ridsdale, who was abused as a child by his priest uncle, Gerald Ridsdale, said the victims faxed their request to the Prefecture of the Papal Household on the advice of Pell's staff.
The cardinal, whose heart condition prevented him from traveling to Australia to appear, was specifically asked about his knowledge of pedophile priests active in the Victorian city of Ballarat and surrounding regions. That included Ridsdale, who was convicted of 138 offences against more than 50 children in Australia.
While victims groups have rejected Pell's responses as inadequate, Vatican chief spokesman Federico Lombardi released a statement supporting the cardinal.
"Cardinal Pell must be accorded the appropriate acknowledgement for his dignified and coherent personal testimony – 20 hours of dialogue with the Royal Commission – from which yet again there emerges an objective and lucid picture of the errors committed in many ecclesial environments, this time in Australia, during the past decades," Lombardi said in a statement posted on the Vatican website.
Pell told the inquiry that the Church had made "enormous mistakes" and "catastrophic" choices by refusing to believe abused children, shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish and over-relying on the counseling of priests to solve the problem.