Australia's top-ranking Catholic has admitted to a parliamentary inquiry in Victoria that some members of the Church tried to cover up child sexual abuse by priests.
Cardinal George Pell said he was "fully apologetic and absolutely sorry" about decades of child sex abuse within the Church.
Some members of the packed public gallery wept as Cardinal Pell on Monday was forced to answer questions about the Church's systemic cover-up of cases of rape of children as young as five, the ABC reports.
In his long-awaited appearance, Cardinal Pell was asked to explain his personal response to abuse within the Church, including why he once accompanied a notorious paedophile to court.
It was put to the cardinal that he had been described as having a sociopathic lack of empathy towards abuse victims and their families - a claim he said was a complete mis-statement.
Cardinal Pell denied ever shielding a known offender and said he had always been on the side of victims. However, he acknowledged that there had been too many suicides.
"Unfortunately, with these people who are so wounded it's very, very difficult to help them," he said.
Cardinal Pell said he recently learned that former Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns had destroyed documents to hide cases of abuse and he admitted that in some cases members of the clergy were placed above the law.
But he denied paying lip service to victims of Church abuse and only saying sorry because he was caught out.
The cardinal said while there have been some cases of cover-ups, the main problem is that many within the Church did not talk about the problem of child sex abuse because they were not "gossips".
"I think many persons in the leadership of the Church, I don't think they knew what a horrendous widespread [issue] we were sitting on."
Victims in the court jeered as he gave evidence.