“I am not the sort of fellow who runs around blaming people for misunderstandings,” Cardinal George Pell said on Monday.
That was midway through his evidence to the child sexual abuse royal commission where he blamed a “muddled” John Davoren, the director of his Professional Standards Office, for giving him inconsistent advice on John Ellis.
Mr Ellis sued the cardinal and the trustees of the Sydney archdiocese for the abuse he suffered as an altar boy at the hands of a priest in the 1970s.
Cardinal Pell also dumped on the former vicar-general and chancellor of the Sydney Archdiocese, Monsignor Brian Rayner, “who continually got hold of the wrong end of the stick”.
The monsignor had been appointed by the cardinal but was fired after two years because the “job was completely beyond him”.
Cardinal Pell also said he had great respect for his private secretary Dr Michael Casey but said the good doctor was only surmising when he told the commission last week his boss would have known what money an abuse victim was being offered.
The cardinal has repeatedly said he never knew Mr Ellis had asked the church for $100,000, thinking he was looking for millions.
Other witnesses at the hearing have said they told the archbishop about the $100,000.
But they were all mistaken, the cardinal said on Monday – repeatedly.
Anyone tuning in to the opening of the live webcast of the hearings might have formed the opinion that the grey-haired bespectacled 72-year-old was a bit befuddled himself as he struggled to find a reference in his statement.
But during five hours of testimony the cardinal Australia doesn’t really understand was soon back on form.
He didn’t appear to flinch when his evidence was greeted sometimes with moans or derisive laughs of disbelief by abuse survivors who packed the hearing room at Governor Macquarie Tower in Sydney.
“I accepted the advice of the lawyers” said the cardinal before confessing his knowledge of the law was not as great as his knowledge of the church.
Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan asked him if the higher obligation the church imposed on him should have ensured his response to John Ellis was more Christian. The cardinal said in a tone that hinted of exasperated logic: “It was a legal case”.
It all became too much for one man. John Hennessy, an abuse victim who had been listening, stood up and cried out, “You should be ashamed of yourself”.
While Dr Pell gave him a dismissive sideways glance, Mr Hennessy was asked to leave the hearing room.
“That man is as cold as ice” he said later, still flushed with anger.