Adelaide: An Australian inquiry Wednesday heard of a gun-toting paedophile priest who made children kneel between his legs during confession as Vatican finance chief Cardinal George Pell admitted a time of "crimes and cover-ups" within the Catholic Church.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney heard evidence from Pell, via videolink from Rome, for a third day, with the senior Australian official again facing intense questioning about what he knew.
The inquiry is currently focused on the town of Ballarat and the city of Melbourne in the state of Victoria, where Pell grew up and worked, and how the church dealt with complaints, many dating back to the 1970s, against the Catholic clergy.
Gail Furness, the top lawyer leading questioning in the inquiry, centred attention Wednesday on Doveton parish priest Peter Searson, who Pell called "one of the most unpleasant" men he had ever met.
The church failed to act in the 1980s despite mounting evidence of his bizarre behaviour.
The commission heard that one complainant said Searson brandished a gun and made children kneel between his legs when they went to confession, during which he had a tape recorder.
Pell called Searson`s behaviour "abhorrent" but denied knowing about it at the time, and suggested that Melbourne Archbishop Frank Little, now deceased, should have done more.
"Archbishop Little for some reason seemed incapable or unable to deal with Father Searson, or even to provide any adequate level of information about the situation," said Pell, suggesting he likely took no action to protect the church`s reputation.
The inquiry heard Searson, who died in 2009, was also accused of sexual assault, swinging a cat by its tail over a fence, killing it, showing children a dead body in a coffin and holding a knife to the chest of a young girl.
Pell, as an auxiliary bishop in the Melbourne archdiocese, said he sought a briefing from the Catholic Education Office after a delegation came to him in 1989 complaining about Searson, but claimed the office "deceived" him about what was being done.
Furness suggested Pell`s evidence was designed to deflect blame from him for doing nothing about the priest, to which he replied: "That is not accurate."
The senior Vatican official has claimed this week that at least two archbishops and other people in authority all lied to him by not revealing what was happening in Ballarat and Melbourne.
"This was an extraordinary world. A world of crimes and cover-ups. And people did not want the status quo to be disturbed," he explained.Furness also questioned Pell on Brother Edward Dowlan, who was based in Ballarat and Melbourne, and was jailed for abusing boys.
Pell, an adviser to the Ballarat bishop at the time, said he could not remember, when asked if he was aware of specific allegations against Dowlan.
"I can`t remember in any detail except that there were unfortunate rumours about his activity with young people. It was always vague and unspecific," he said.
"I regret that I didn`t do more at that stage."
On Tuesday, Pell, who heads the Vatican Treasury, said the crimes of priest Gerald Ridsdale, convicted of more than 100 child sex abuse charges, were a sad story but they were "not of much interest" to him at the time.
He denied all knowledge about Ridsdale`s offending and accused the Ballarat bishop at the time, Ronald Mulkearns, of "gross deception" by failing to tell him what was happening.
A group of abuse survivors who travelled to Rome to witness the testimony have requested a meeting with Pope Francis and Pell Wednesday said he was "happy to assist".
Australia ordered the Royal Commission in 2012 after a decade of growing pressure to investigate allegations of widespread paedophilia.
It has spoken to almost 5,000 survivors and heard claims of abuse involving churches, orphanages, community and youth groups and schools.