Australian Cardinal George Pell says the Catholic Church has made "enormous mistakes" after becoming the highest-ranking Vatican official to give evidence on sexual abuse of children in the Church.

Pell, 74, held up a Bible as he was sworn in to answer questions from Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse in front of victims in a Rome hotel room.

Around 15 abuse victims and support staff travelled to Rome on the back of a crowd-funding campaign to see the Vatican's treasurer give evidence after he said he was unable to travel to his native Australia because of heart problems.

Pope says 'God weeps' for sex abuse of children

While strictly speaking an Australian affair concerning events decades ago, the hearing has taken on wider implications about accountability of Catholic leaders because of Pell's high position in the Vatican, where he serves as finance minister.

"The Church has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those but the Church in many places, certainly in Australia, has mucked things up, has let people down," Pell said as he began answering questions via video link to the commission in Sydney.

"I'm not here to defend the indefensible."

Pell has become the focal point for victims' frustration over what they say has been an inadequate response from the Catholic Church to the abuse claims.

Al Jazeera's Claudio Lavanga, reporting from Rome, said Pell will face questioning daily until Wednesday.

He said the cardinal is not accused of sexual abuse.

"He is not facing criminal charges, but should the abuse commission rule that he ignored or protected abusers, his position as the Vatican's economy chief could become untenable," he said.


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There were scuffles between security guards and journalists when Pell arrived at the Rome hotel a few hours before the hearing began at 10pm Italian time on Sunday (21:00 GMT), which is 8am Sydney time on Monday.

"We need the Vatican to stand up and take responsibility rather than hide behind legal processes and please help us heal the future," David Ridsdale, one of the abuse victims, told reporters as he entered the hotel.

"We don't want any more survivors. We need to be the last of the survivors. That's our message."

Pell and his supporters say he has done no wrong and that he has become a lightning rod for all cases of abuse.

Source: Al Jazeera And Reuters