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ABC, THE AGE, SKY NEWS AUSTRALIA, SYNDEY MORNING HERALD (Australia)

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MELBOURNE - Australia’s top Cardinal George Pell acknowledged Monday that senior members of the Australian Catholic Church had covered up cases of sexual abuse. "I am fully apologetic and absolutely sorry," Pell said. "I'm certainly totally committed to improving the situation. I know the Holy Father is too."

At a child abuse inquiry in the southern state of Victoria, Cardinal Pell said the Catholic Church's history of sexual abuse stems from loose entry requirements for priests, past errors of judgement and inaction, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

Cardinal Pell in 2007. Photo by Gavin Scott

According to Sky News Australia, the cardinal also deemed celibacy a potential factor in the high rate of child sex abuse within the Catholic Church.

Pell told the inquiry the Church has been the victim of years of "intermittent hostility from the press," but conceded that it has helped uncover some of the Church's failings. Overall, the Catholic Church said at least 620 Victorian children had been abused by the clergy over the past 80 years, ABC reported.

Pell said that his predecessor as Archbishop of Melbourne, Frank Little, was involved in a cover-up and another archbishop had destroyed documents but he firmly denied any personal involvement or covering-up, reports ABC.

Cardinal Pell said the Church will pay the victims appropriate compensation, but he does not think it has a moral obligation to match the multi-million-dollar payouts that occurred in the U.S., writes The Age. The maximum payout figure in Australia so far has been AUS$75,000 ($72,000).

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