Cardinal George Pell gives final mass before leaving for Vatican

Hours after apologising to the victim of a paedophile priest at the royal commission into child sex abuse, Cardinal George Pell made his final address to the faithful at a Mass in St Mary's Cathedral.

Cardinal Pell takes over as head of the Vatican's finances in Rome on Monday after 13 years as the archbishop of Sydney.

Before almost 3000 worshippers, including federal and NSW politicians, at the packed Mass, he again apologised to the victims of child sex abuse.

"I apologise once again to the victims and to their families for the terrible suffering that has been caused to them by these crimes," he said.

Cardinal Pell said he was "shedding one set of burdens for another" and called on the congregation to stay true to Catholic teachings - and to spread the word by going into politics and reaching out through schools and hospitals.

Two protesters carrying placards stood outside the cathedral in the evening drizzle and greeted congregation members as they left. They said they were victims of abuse and had been refused entry to the Mass.

Cardinal Pell was the eighth archbishop of Sydney and a former archbishop of Melbourne.

Born in Ballarat in Victoria, he was created a cardinal in 2003 and has maintained a conservative approach to faith and morals.

His views on the ordination of women, homosexuality, abortion and human-induced climate change have come under fire in the past.

Earlier on Thursday, he ended his testimony before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse with an apology to the victim of a paedophile priest.

He read out the apology to John Ellis without looking at the former altar boy.

He said the church had failed Mr Ellis and that, as the former archbishop of Sydney, he took ultimate responsibility for the suffering and the impact on his life.

“At the end of this gruelling appearance for both of us at this royal commission, I want to publicly say sorry to him for the hurt caused him by the mistakes made,” Cardinal Pell said.

Mr Ellis was a 13-year-old altar boy in the Sydney parish of Bass Hill when priest Aidan Duggan began abusing him. He lost his landmark damages case against the Sydney Archdiocese, which established a defence that has shielded the church from damages claims in similar cases.

Cardinal Pell previously admitted before the commission that he wanted to avoid large damages costs when he set up the Melbourne Response in 1996 to deal with child sex abuse complaints, with a $50,000 cap on payouts.

Correction: The original version of this story said that 300 worshippers attended the Mass.

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