Cardinal George Pell of Australia recently admitted that the Catholic church did not address victims of sexual abuse by priests properly, and said his predecessor "did cover up" sex abuse.
"We've been slow to address the anguish of the victims and dealt with it very imperfectly," he acknowledged.
Pell also explained that former Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns knew of the sex abuse allegations and destroyed documents. He then moved the suspects to other parishes. These actions were "followed by disastrous consequences."
As noted by Salon, around 620 children were sexually abused by clergy in Australia from the '30s until now.
This abuse was hidden by the nation's hierarchy.
"The primary motivation would have been to respect the reputation of the church," Pell said. "There was a fear of scandal."
For the first time, Pell seemed genuinely apologetic.
"I don't think many, if any, persons in the leadership of the Catholic Church knew what a horrendous widespread mess we were sitting on. There's no doubt about it that lives have been blighted. There's no doubt about it that these crimes have contributed to too many suicides," he said.
While he did not admit to directly covering up the abuse, he said he is "committed to working to make improvements."
Twenty years ago, Pell was in court with colleague Father Gerald Francis Risdale. Risdale was on trial for sexual abuse, and was convicted of molesting and raping 40 children over a period of 26 years.
During his inquiry this week, Pell said he supported Risdale because he did not know any better.
"At that stage, nobody knew - well, I certainly didn't - what proved to be the full extent of his infamous career. I did know that there was a very significant number of charges but I had no idea about all the other things that would unfold," he said.
Salon recently dug up an article from 11 years ago where Pell told a group of World Youth Day delegates that "abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people" because it is "always a destruction of human life."
Though Pell might appear apologetic about the abuse, Salon writer Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote that he is still being ignorant about the ordeal. Despite his apology, he also said he did not believe the church has a "moral obligation" to increase the settlement amounts for the sex abuse victims. And he also blamed the Australian government for not acting on the sex abuse cases earlier.
"I've sometimes said, if we'd been gossips - which we weren't - and we had talked to one another about the problems that were there we would have realized earlier just how widespread this awful business was," he said.