The surprise development on Thursday came after an hour-long meeting between the cardinal and a group of abuse survivors who had travelled to Rome to see the cardinal give evidence to the child abuse royal commission.
Earlier in the week the survivors declared they had given up on Pell, exasperated with his denials during his evidence that he was unaware of the activities of pedophile priests in the Ballarat diocese in the 1970s when he served there.
Many of the survivor group were abused by pedophile priests, including Australia’s worst one, Gerald Ridsdale, and members of the Christian Brothers when Ballarat was a hotbed of pedophile activity.
The survivors were crowdfunded to travel to Rome and their campaign for the Catholic Church and other institutions to change their systems to combat child sex abuse and recognise the trauma suffered by victims gained global media coverage.
Emerging from his meeting with the survivor group in the Rome hotel where he gave his evidence to the royal commission, Pell told a media throng it had been a “hard and honest and occasionally emotional meeting”.
The 74-year-old Ballarat-born cleric, who is the Vatican’s finance chief, said he had heard each of the survivor’s stories and their suffering.
“I know many of their families and I know of the goodness of so many people in Catholic Ballarat, a goodness which is not extinguished by the evil that was done.”
Pell undertook to work with the survivors’ group effectively with the committees and agencies the church had in Rome, including the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
“One suicide is too many … and there have been many such tragic suicides.
“I commit myself to working with the group that is trying to stop this, so that suicide is not seen as an option for those who are suffering.”
Pell said he supported work to investigate the feasibility of setting up a research centre in Ballarat to “enhance healing and improve protection”.
“It would be marvellous if our city became well known as an effective centre and example of practical health for all those wounded by the scourge of sexual abuse”, he told reporters after the meeting.
“I know of the goodness of so many people in Catholic Ballarat, a goodness not extinguished by the evil that was done.
Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.
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