Royal Commission Expected to Recall Bishop Mulkearns As Cardinal Pell Begins Day Three of Testimony in Rome
March 1, 2016
CARDINAL Pell was accused of “designing” his evidence to deflect blame during the third day of testimony in which the “extraordinary world of crimes and cover ups” within the Catholic Church were exposed.
The Vatican treasurer told the Royal Commission he had been deceived on multiple occasions in different parts of the country over sex offending priests operating in country parishes.
Pell said he was never told the full extent of convicted pedophile Father Peter Searson’s activities in Doveton – a parish in his region as auxiliary bishop - where he was accused of pointing a gun at people, stabbing a bird with a screwdriver, tape recording confessions and forcing a child to kneel between his legs during confession.
The Cardinal claimed he had investigated the claims to the best of his ability but information was deliberately withheld by the Catholic Education Office and Archbishop Frank Little, who had been described as having a “blind spot” when it came to Searson.
When asked why that “completely implausible” strategy might be, he suggested it was part of a plan to protect the norm. SC Furness remarked it was an extraordinary position” to which the Cardinal replied: “Counsel this was an extraordinary world. A world of crimes and cover ups and people did not want the status quo to be disturbed.”
“I can only tell you the truth, the whole story of Searson is quite implausible and the cover up is equally implausible,” he said.
In an extended session that stretched to three am local time, the Commission heard how Pell viewed himself as a source of reform through the implementation of the Melbourne Response, which he cited as one reason the Catholic Church is “among the safest in Australia”.
The remark attracted snorts from Anthony and Chrissie Foster, whose two daughters were abused by priests, and David Ridsdale, nephew and victim of notorious pedophile Gerald Ridsdale, sitting in the front row. The Cardinal also portrayed himself as a tough reformer “capable of being outspoken.
“They might have been fearful of just what line I would take when confronted with all the information. They were very keen to keep a lid on the situation,” he said, reinforcing the point he had been lied to by those in positions of authority above him.
The commission also heard further shocking allegations about Searson holding a knife to a chest of a young girl and telling another one she shouldn’t look at herself in the mirror after touching her stomach.
Pell admitted he found the man “disconcerting” from the start and said he regretted not being “more vigorous in my questioning” of the allegations against him. However he denied he had failed in his responsibility to children and implied the ultimate authority belonged to Archbishop Frank Little.
“His method of operating was quite different from mine and our relationship, we were not close friends in any sense. Our relationship was professional and courteous,” Pell said of Little.
Outside, the group of Australian survivors who had travelled to Rome to watch Pell testify called on Pope Francis to acknowledge the public hearing unfolding on the doorstep of the Holy See.
“The world needs the pope and the Vatican to stand up and be responsible, accountable and be moral,” said David Ridsdale. While Andrew Collins said they’re “really sad” the opportunity for support does not seem to have materialised.
“There has been some anger obviously but we’re sad, we’re really sad because there was an opportunity for George Pell to stand up and support us,” he said.
EVIDENCE THAT COULD BRING DOWN PELL
Former Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns will return to give evidence to the Royal Commission about paedophile Gerald Ridsdale, as News Corp Australia columnist Andrew Bolt secured an exclusive interview with Cardinal George Pell.
The Royal Commission confirmed the former Bishop has not been excused from further attendance with a date for his return to be confirmed.
However his testimony must be restricted to 90 minutes based on medical advice which states he can speak for a limited time before requiring several days to recover.
The Royal Commission will ask Mulkearns to testify on how much Cardinal Pell knew about the sexual offences of Ridsdale in Victoria in the 1970s.
It follows an explosive day of testimony in which the 74-year-old Cardinal accused Mulkearns of lying to his advisers.
“The expectation is that he will continue to give evidence,” a Royal Commission spokesman told News Corp Australia ahead of the third night of Cardinal Pell’s testimony in Rome’s Hotel Quirinale.
Former Bishop Mulkearns, 86, who has terminal cancer and testified just days ago via videolink from his nursing home, has apologised over his handling of Ridsdale, but Senior Counsel were unable to complete his examination which was interrupted after 90 minutes due to ill health.
“I’m terribly sorry that I didn’t do things differently in that time,” Mulkearns said about the years in which Ridsdale abused 153 children under his watch.
He said he retired from the role in 1997 because he did not feel he was “handling himself well”.
The return of Mulkearns to the evidence stand could change things for the Vatican treasurer, who last night threw his former leader “under the bus”, according to sex abuse survivor David Ridsdale.
Victims’ advocates have said his testimony could be a “game changer” but fear his poor health means he could take his knowledge “to the grave”.
On day 160 of the hearing, Cardinal Pell said he knew nothing about Ridsdale’s offending in the community at the time he was acting as a consultant to Mulkearns. He said he was deceived and possibly lied to by the Bishop who had known of his offending due to complaints from those within the community.
Whether or not Cardinal Pell knew about it during an intimate meeting to discuss Ridsdale’s movement is a key subject of interest for the inquiry.
Cardinal Pell said he could not recall what was discussed but knew for a fact it did not involve “paedophilia”.
He also told Commissioners there was no way of knowing what was in the minds of those present, and “all of us have to respect the evidence.”
PELL AGREES TO ONE-HOUR INTERVIEW
Cardinal Pell has agreed to a one-hour exclusive interview with News Corp Australia columnist Andrew Bolt to be aired on Sky Newson Thursday morning after the Royal Commission hearing concludes.
The venue for the interview is unknown but it will air on the Macquarie Radio Network, including 2GB and 3AW, The Australian reports.
Bolt, who has previously defended the Cardinal, told Sky News that the second day of the hearing was “disastrous” for Vatican number three, referring to Pell’s testimony that Ridsdale’s offending was a “sad story” that wasn’t of “much interest” to him at the time.
“Those words about the Ridsdale case … I just think those will be hung around his neck for the rest of his career,” he told Sky News.
‘I FELT LIKE I WAS THE ONE TO BLAME’
On Tuesday, sexual abuse survivors accused the Cardinal of “still lying” and “handballing” the blame to Mulkearns.
“I got a call this morning from St Kilda footy club about Pell for his handballing skills,” joked Dominic Ridsdale, who along with David, is a nephew of Gerald Ridsdale and survived years of abuse from his uncle.
He said watching the Cardinal testify from the front rows of the Verdi room was a daunting experience but he was getting stronger every day.
Despite coming out as a survivor of abuse himself in 1998, he said it was heartbreaking to hear his family name mentioned in the hearing.
“Still when they mentioned Paul (Levey’s) name last night I felt like I was the one to blame,” he said of Cardinal Pell’s testimony about the then 14-year-old was sleeping in the presbytery with Ridsdale.
“In the early days it was really tough. I felt like I was to blame because he hurt so many people and he was my uncle.”
‘EVERY RIBBON IS THE FACE OF A CHILD’
Earlier, the group of survivors walked to Domus Australia to tie colourful ribbons to the window bars of the Australian church-owned hotel and restaurant building, largely catering to Catholic pilgrims.
“We are pilgrims of sorts, well at least we are in town from Australia,” Andrew Collins said, adding the building recent renovations was a Pell legacy.
The group unfurled a banner of the Loud Fences campaign, dedicated to victims and survivors of child abuse.
“This is for all victims and survivors of child sex abuse not just those from the church,” David Ridsdale. “Every ribbon is a face of the child.”
The group jokingly sang part chorus of Tim Minchin’s Come Home (Cardinal Pell) song on the steps of the property.
Ridsdale said with all that the group has heard in the past couple of days and experienced over the years, they had to have a laugh every now and then.
PELL IN ITALIAN MEDIA SPOTLIGHT
The Italian press have given the Pell hearings blanket coverage today, with many of the national newspapers running full or double page spreads.
Some of the newspapers linked the story to the overnight best picture Oscar awarded to Spotlight, the crusading Boston Globe expose about clergy child sex assaults in their city.
Il Messaggero highlighted Cardinal Pell’s nervousness in the witness box, scratching his head and mouth, and raised the fact that when Pope Francis came back from Mexico last month he said any clergy covering up paedophilia would be forced to resign.
It noted however that under Italian laws, Archbishops did not need to respond to anything to do with paedophilia.
La Repubblica also gave solid coverage of the past two days of hearings, Corre della Sera highlighted the likely enforced retirement of Pell come June when he turns 75, while La Stampa dedicated a full page to the abuse case.
The Catholic newspaper Avvenire took a very different angle and is the only Italian newspaper to highlight the issue of a police inquiry into allegations of abuse made directly at Cardinal Pell.