Vatican refuses to hand over documents to Royal Commission

THE Vatican has refused a royal commission request to hand over papal documents pertaining to Australian priests accused of sex crimes.

Justice Peter McClellan, the head of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, wrote to the Vatican asking for access to the files in order to assess how church authorities in this country dealt with the allegations of abuse.

But the letter from the Vatican's Secretariat of State said finding every file on accused Australian priests was "neither possible nor appropriate" and would be "inconsistent with international practice".

Cardinal George Pell, who now works in Rome as Secretariat for the Economy at the Vatican, supported his employer's position saying the commission could not be given free access to the "internal working documents of another sovereign state".

Cardinal Pell, giving evidence to the commission via videolink, rejected suggestions he was more interested in protecting the Church's finances than helping victims, adding he had worked to offer support.

He said the Vatican had provided 5000 pages of documents in relation to specific requests but he thought the royal commission's request for documents relating to each case was "unreasonable".

Cardinal Pell reacted strongly to criticism of his controversial Melbourne Response program saying it was the first scheme in the country that sought to compensate victims of clerical sexual abuse.

"We were among the front-runners in Melbourne in addressing these scandals and I would suggest to you that that is entirely consistent with Catholic tradition and the teachings of Christ," he said.