George Pell, the Australian cardinal whose conviction for child abuse was overturned this year, has said his conservative Christian views drove public opinion against him.
Speaking to the BBC, the 79-year-old said there was “no doubt” that his direct style and traditional approach to issues such as abortion had contributed to a hostile atmosphere.
The former Vatican treasurer said he would not apologise for those views.
His case rocked the Catholic Church.
The cardinal, who had been one of the Pope’s most senior advisers and always maintained his innocence, had left the Vatican in 2017 to fight the charges against him in his home state of Victoria.
In his first broadcast interview in the UK, Cardinal Pell said he would not apologise for his conservative views, but had said sorry “many times” for the Church’s crimes of sexual abuse.
“I think my style is rather direct – the fact that I defend Christian teachings – is irritating to a lot of people,” he told BBC’s Radio 4’s Sunday programme. “For my basic Christian positions I make no apology at all.”
Asked about the victims of child abuse and what it must be like living with the consequences of what happened to them, Cardinal Pell said he was “very much aware of their suffering”.
He said that while he regretted what had happened within the Church, he was “able to sleep quite well on most occasions”.
“I deeply lament the suffering of so many people, but I am also proud of the efforts that we have made in Australia for over 25 years – as inadequate as those might have been.”
Cardinal Pell also likened his time in segregation in prison to being in a seminary, where those training to be priests used to endure periods of silence and isolation.
Who is Cardinal Pell and why was he jailed?
The Australian cleric rose in prominence as a strong supporter of traditional Catholic values, often taking conservative views and advocating for priestly celibacy.
He was summoned to Rome in 2014 to clean up the Vatican’s finances, and was often described as the Church’s third-ranked official.
He left his post as Vatican treasurer in 2017 to contest accusations that he had sexually abused two choir boys when he was Archbishop of Melbourne.
In December 2018, a jury found him guilty of sexually abusing the two 13-year-old choir boys in the mid-1990s.
He was the highest-ranking Catholic figure to receive such a conviction.
The trial heard testimony from a man alleged to be the sole surviving victim. Dozens of other witnesses provided alibis and other evidence.
Cardinal Pell appealed against the verdict in Victoria’s Court of Appeal last year, but three judges upheld the decision by a 2-1 majority.
Why was the conviction overturned?
The High Court of Australia quashed the verdict in April, bringing an immediate end to Cardinal Pell’s six-year jail sentence.
In his appeal to the High Court, the cleric argued that the jury’s verdict had relied too heavily on evidence from the surviving victim. His lawyers did not try to discredit that testimony, but argued that other evidence had not been properly considered.
The court’s seven judges ruled unanimously in his favour, and said in their verdict that other testimonies had introduced “a reasonable possibility that the offending had not taken place”.
Cardinal Pell said at the time that an injustice had been “remedied”, and that he held “no ill will to my accuser”.
He met Pope Francis in October for the first time since his conviction for child sexual abuse was overturned.