''Do you understand now from your learning in the area of the effect and impact of child sexual abuse that the impact it had on John Ellis to have the very church he had gone back to dispute that he had ever been abused?''

The rain outside had streaked the windows with tears when Gail Furness, senior counsel assisting the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse suddenly turned the Catholic Church into a perpetrator.

In the public gallery, Mr Ellis, a man who long ago had been abused by his parish priest, raised a hand to his face like a shield and watched Cardinal George Pell start his penance without reconciliation.

Cardinal Pell, as the former Catholic archbishop of Sydney, had sanctioned a legal strategy that refused to recognise Mr Ellis had been abused, offered him derisory financial compensation, refused his offers of a settlement in the belief it would cause a rush of litigants demanding massive compensation payouts, and subjected him to a long demeaning legal case that eventually left him bankrupt.

Cardinal Pell: ''I regret that.''

Ms Furness: ''Only regret, Cardinal?''

Cardinal Pell: ''What else could I say. It was wrong that it [the court cross-examination of Mr Ellis] went to such an extent. I was told it was a legally proper tactic, strategy.''

Cardinal Pell not only blamed his lawyers at the royal commission but dropped his trusted private secretary in it, saying Dr Michael Casey was ''muddled''.

However, the drama of his first appearance on Monday was largely absent. The victims of child abuse and their supporters attended, but seemed to have left their anger at home and listened as Cardinal Pell gave evidence for nearly five hours, occasionally jeering loudly at his answers.

Their larger outbursts came as he struggled to explain he had come to personally believe that Mr Ellis had been sexual abused by Father Aidan Duggan but documents showed he directed the Melbourne legal firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth to refuse to acknowledge the truth of his claims while the matter was before the Court of Appeal.

In a room full of lawyers, he also squeezed off a few sharp comments about the legal fraternity, blaming the welter of litigation about predatory priests in the US on the numbers of lawyers and even seemed to lament they did not labour under the constraints faced by a cardinal.

''I have explained my moral doubts about it, but the lawyers - no one has accused them of acting …''