ROME — A top Vatican official vowed Thursday to work to put an end to the rash of suicides in his Australian hometown over the church sex abuse scandal after meeting with victims and admitting that he failed to act on an allegation decades ago.

Cardinal George Pell, Pope Francis’ top financial adviser, met Thursday with some of the Australian abuse victims who traveled to Rome to witness his four days of remote, video-link testimony to Australia’s Royal Commission. The commission is investigating how the Catholic Church and other institutions responded to the sexual abuse of children over decades.

Emerging from the meeting with survivors at a Rome hotel, Pell read a statement pledging to help his hometown of Ballarat recover from scores of suicides of abuse victims. He said he hoped the city of 100,000 might one day become “an example for practical help for all those wounded by the scourge of sexual abuse.”

PREYING ON DOZENS OF KIDS

“One suicide is too many. And there have been many such tragic suicides,” Pell said. “I commit myself to work with the group to try to stop this so that suicide is not seen as an option for those who are suffering.”

Ballarat, a heavily Catholic city in Australia’s Victoria state, has had a devastating experience with the abuse scandal. Testimony to the Royal Commission revealed how the Christian Brothers religious order, in particular, preyed on dozens of children in the schools it ran from the 1960s to 1980s.

Pell was called to answer questions about his time as a priest in Ballarat, and as an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne. The four days of testimony saw the 74-year-old cardinal answer questions from the commission and a succession of lawyers.

Pell said he was also providing a daily summary of his testimony to Francis.

FAILURE TO ACT IMMEDIATELY

During the final round, Pell acknowledged that he didn’t immediately act when a schoolboy brought an abuse allegation to him in 1974 against a cleric. Pell told the inquiry he was a junior priest when the unnamed student at St. Patrick’s College in Ballarat told him that Christian Brothers teacher Edward Dowlan “is misbehaving with boys.”

Pell said he eventually raised concerns about Dowlan with the school chaplain. The chaplain replied that the Christian Brothers order was “dealing with” the allegations.

Dowlan was later removed from the school but he continued to abuse children as a teacher at other schools until 1985.

“With the experience of 40 years later, certainly I would agree that I should have done more,” Pell said.