Pell: Vatican saw abuse claims as "enemies of the church"

FOR Archbishop of Sydney George Pell, it would have been just a piece of paperwork.

For those packed into Sydney's Macquarie Tower on Monday, it was the moment a church leader attempted to crush the hope of a child sexual abuse victim.

Now Australia's most highly ranked Catholic, and bound for a job at the Vatican, 72-year-old Cardinal Pell faced a Royal Commission to explain the church's actions.

Justice Peter McClellan and the Commission heard how the Cardinal altered a letter penned for abuse survivor John Ellis in 2002.

From 1974 to 1979, a teenaged, Mr Ellis was abused by Father Aidan Duggan at the Christ the King Catholic Church in Western Sydney's Bass Hill.

Initially, the letter was to tell Mr Ellis that while the church would not compensate him, the church believed his claims and was sorry.

The Cardinal - an Archbishop at the time - deleted both.

When it arrived on Christmas Eve 2002, it read that the church "regretted only that a clear resolution of the matter was not possible".

Mr Ellis likened it to having a door shut in his face.

When asked to explain the changes, the Cardinal said he wanted to be honest - if Mr Ellis' claim couldn't be proven, neither could his hurt.

Opinion: George Pell's legacy will be his skill at avoiding blame

He later conceded the survivor's claim could have been substantiated.

The mishandling of Mr Ellis' complaint would lead to almost a decade of legal wrangling, which has now forced the church to pay more than $500,000.

Cardinal Pell also gave some insight into how the church viewed abuse victims as claims began to mount.

He said in the early 1990s, the Vatican felt "enemies of the church" or troublemakers were behind the horrifying accusations.

Cardinal George Pell's full statement to the Royal Commission (Part one)

Cardinal George Pell's full statement to the Royal Commission (Part two)

Cardinal Pell said he felt the amount of child sexual abuse in the church was "taken out of context" because it was not being compared to abuse in the wider community.

Cardinal Pell also denied claims made by colleagues in the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney who said the Cardinal was heavily consulted in how accusations and compensation would be handled.

In his formal statement to the Commission, tabled before his testimony, the Cardinal said he "abhors any abuse and mistreatment of children".

"I acknowledge with shame and great sadness the immense pain and sometimes life-long harm to those who are abused."

Cardinal Pell will front the Commission again on Wednesday.