Ex Pastorelle Sister Speaks Out

CARDINAL George Pell has refused to name and shame priests who admit in the confessional that they are paedophiles.

Cardinal Pell yesterday welcomed the royal commission into sexual abuse and said he would front the commission if called on - but openly advised priests to avoid hearing confessions of sexual abuse from fellow priests to help preserve the sanctity of the confessional.

He also claimed there had been a "smearing" of the Catholic Church.

The Government released details of the royal commission, which it said would begin work early next year, amid concerns from MPs that the scope of the inquiry, which could last 10 years, was possibly too broad to get a significant result for abused children.

Victims or anyone who knows of sexual abuse was urged by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to call police, with the royal commission not equipped to prosecute child sex offenders.

"If the priest knows beforehand about such a situation, the priest should refuse to hear the confession," Cardinal Pell said yesterday.

"I would never hear the confession of a priest who's suspected of such a thing."

He questioned if "re-running" historic events only opened up old wounds for victims, but said he hoped the victims found some peace in the royal commission.

"One of the good things about this royal commission is that it doesn't focus exclusively on us. I don't think we should be scapegoated," Cardinal Pell said.

"We've been unable to convince public opinion that for basically the last 20 years, whatever the imperfections in individual cases, we've been serious about this."

Cardinal Pell said all cases of sexual abuse should be reported to police but asked if they had "adequate resources to deal with the actual problems that are happening day to day".

He said in August the Archdiocese of Sydney had distributed a booklet of guidelines on how to deal with sexual abuse.

Under the "Help for victims" section, the booklet states the archdiocese works to resolve legal action out of court "so victims can avoid the costs and stress of litigation".

But Cardinal Pell said he had never offered a victim of sexual abuse "hush money".

"We acknowledge with shame the extent of the problem," he said.

"This commission will enable these claims to be validated or found to be significantly exaggerated."

Independent senator Nick Xenophon yesterday called for the royal commission to deliver an interim report after two years.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said tens of thousands of people who had been badly let down by people in positions of authority would now have a chance to air their "heartfelt cries for justice".

Prime Minister Julia Gillard will discuss the set-up of the commission with state premiers.

 - Alicia  Wood and Gemma Jones

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