Pell: Church made 'enormous mistakes' on child abuse

CARDINAL George Pell has told the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse the Catholic Church's predisposition on abuse allegations was not to believe children.

Appearing from the Hotel Quirinale in Rome on Monday (AEDT), Cardinal Pell faced questions for several hours about his knowledge of child sexual abuse by priests in Ballarat and Melbourne over past decades.

Cardinal Pell's testimony was heard by former victims of abuse in Rome and in Ballarat, where the commission held the official hearing via video link.

He told the commission he was "not here to defend the indefensible" and the Church had made "enormous mistakes" in how it dealt with allegations and actual abuse of children by priests over several decades.

Asked what the Church's attitude during the 1970s and 1980s was towards such allegations, he said that "the predisposition was not to believe (the child)".

"Too many were dismissed and sometimes they were dismissed in absolutely scandalous circumstances," Cardinal Pell said. "There were very, very plausible allegations made by responsible people that were not followed up sufficiently."

Cardinal Pell was also asked specifically about the Church's response to the abuse of 53 victims by former priest and convicted pedophile Gerard Ridsdale.

He told the commission he had recently "re-read the file" on Ridsdale and "the way he was dealt with was a catastrophe".

"It was a catastrophe for the victims and a catastrophe for the Church.

"If effective action had been taken sooner, an enormous amount of suffering could have been avoided."

Cardinal Pell was asked about numerous other instances of allegations of inappropriate "touching" of children and students. He "did not remember" them - his memory was "sometimes fallible".

Victims told reporters in Rome they were disappointed in Cardinal Pell's testimony and claims of not remembering specific details.

Abuse survivor Tim Lane told reporters he thought the cardinal was "passing the buck" by making such claims.