Cardinal George Pell has strongly defended the so-called Melbourne Response as Australia's first comprehensive redress scheme for victims of clerical sexual abuse at the royal commission.
Appearing at the commission via video link from the Vatican in Rome on Thursday night, Cardinal Pell likened the Catholic Church's responsibility for child abuse to that of a ''trucking company''. If a driver sexually assaulted a passenger they picked up along the way, he said, ''I don't think it appropriate for the … leadership of that company be held responsible.''
Cardinal Pell, who established the Melbourne Response when he was Archbishop of the Melbourne Archdiocese in 1996, denied suggestions that any of its three arms - the Independent Commissioner, compensation panel and counselling arm Carelink - had stopped operating independently of the other.
Sean Cash, a lawyer for abuse victim Paul Hersbach, challenged the trucking company analogy, saying that because the Catholic Church was an organisation of the ''highest integrity'' it owed victims a far greater legal and moral responsibility. He said it should not impede victims' ability to receive full and fair compensation.
''We were among the front-runners in Melbourne in addressing these scandals and I would suggest to you that that is entirely consistent with Catholic tradition and the teachings of Christ,'' Cardinal Pell replied.
He also apologised to parents of abuse victims Emma and Katie, Christine and Anthony Foster, who won a $750,000 settlement from the Melbourne archdiocese after two of their three daughters were sexually abused by notorious abuser Father Kevin O'Donnell.
Mr Foster said Cardinal Pell showed a ''sociopathic lack of empathy'' when they met to discuss the case in the 1990s.
In his statement to the child abuse royal commission, Cardinal Pell said he had not tried to insult the Fosters.
''It was certainly not my intention to upset them. I wanted to help them. I regret deeply that I have been unable to bring them even a small amount of healing,'' he said.
Earlier on Thursday, church lawyer Richard Leder told the commission that Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart had ''strongly held views that every effort should be made to settle'' the Fosters' case. He said the church could have argued it could not be legally sued, but Archbishop Hart did not want to go down that route.
''While that would be a legal victory, that would not be a victory that the Archbishop would have enjoyed,'' Mr Leder said.
His answer drew jeers from the public gallery.
Mr Leder also apologised before the Royal Commission over incorrect statements made in correspondence between himself and senior figures from the archdiocese and the Melbourne Response.
The comments were made regarding an application for church funding by the Foster family, who requested the church pay for special accommodation for Emma. She suffered from depression, anorexia and drug addiction.
But Mr Leder accused the Fosters of kicking their eldest daughter out of home, and the church rejected the funding request.
Royal commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan asked for an explanation.
Mr Leder could not recall why he had made the comment and apologised to the Fosters, who have attended all of the commission hearings in Melbourne.