‘It was the smooth Pell on the stand’: Father of abuse victims
March 1, 2016

Anthony Foster, father of two girls who were raped in the 1980s by a paedophile priest, said he was a “broken man”.

Mr Foster said he had given up hope that Cardinal George Pell (pictured) would fix the Catholic Church’s response to the scandal.
Photo by Ella Pellegrini

Paul Levely (centre), one of the survivors of abuse by Catholic clergy in Australia, said he “can’t believe” Pell knew nothing about paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale.

A FATHER of two girls who were raped by a priest while in primary school said it was “the smooth Cardinal Pell” testifying to the child abuse Royal Commission from Rome.

Anthony Foster, whose daughters Emma and Katie were both assaulted by Melbourne priest Father Kevin O’Donnell, said he had “given up hope” that George Pell would fix the Church’s response to institutional paedophilia.

“Quest over,” said Mr Foster, according to the ABC. “It was the smooth Cardinal Pell, not the Cardinal Pell, we saw on the stand.”

The husband and father confronted Pell outside the hearing at the Hotel Quirinale after the Cardinal’s second day of testimony via video link, telling him “he was holding the hand of a broken man”.

After two of Mr Foster’s three daughters were raped, Emma became addicted to drugs, had eating disorders and self-harmed before overdosing on medication at 26. Katie was hit by a car after a drinking binge in 1999, leaving her brain damaged.

Mr Foster told reporters: “He put his other hand on me and tried to, I suppose, connect in some way, but I didn’t feel it.

“He was okay to shake my hand and talk to me but he basically said he couldn’t give anything. He was certainly dismissive.

“I still think if he really wanted to he could make something happen in Melbourne and fix the system that he put in place that has crushed so many people.”

Pell has already provoked hostility with his testimony, eliciting howls of laughter from the audience in Sydney on day two, when he claimed the Catholic Church worked “within a framework of Christian moral teaching”.

He also told the Royal Commission that allegations against Australia’s most notorious paedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, were “not of much interest” to him at the time.

Australia’s top Catholic, who has been unable to return to testify in Sydney because of ill health, was unable to recall some important details, including what happened at a meeting where at least three senior members of the church decided to move Ridsdale from his Mortlake Parish.

“I don’t have a clear recollection of this meeting at all except for that paedophilia was never mentioned,” the Vatican treasurer told the Royal Commission. “There was no reference by Bishop Mulkearns of paedophilia by Ridsdale at that meeting.”

An incredulous Senior Counsel Gail Furness asked the 74-year-old: “If you can’t recall, how can you recall that he didn’t mention paedophilia?”

Ridsdale has faced four trials alone for offences relating to 54 children from as early as the 1960s. He is now serving his fourth jail term and will be eligible for parole in 2018.

The tense exchange with Pell was just one in a series of adversarial moments on the second day of testimony, watched by a growing contingent of international media drawn to the Australian story unfolding just minutes from the Vatican.

After a conciliatory opening the day before, Pell struck a defensive tone with commissioners, maintaining that he knew nothing of the sexual abuse allegations against Ridsdale, which had been an open secret in at least two parishes and seen the offending priest, whose victims are rumoured to be in the hundreds, moved at least five times.

Pell was articulate and sharp on the stand, diving straight into where the testimony left off yesterday and wading through a raft of documents for four hours from 10pm local time.

But he remained evasive and defensive, unwilling to concede he knew anything untoward was happening and frequently painting a picture of a country life far removed from the standards of today. “We’re talking about a different age. There was no social media I don’t think there were mobile telephones.”

The Cardinal also debated the semantics of a “collective” versus “universal” failure at one point, prompting the commissioners to ask whether he was being obstructive or providing evidence for an inquiry.

The group of survivors who had travelled to face the Cardinal in Rome appeared hostile and agitated, particularly Paul Levey, who was mentioned in the hearing as the 14-year-old boy who was forced to sleep on a camp stretcher in Ridsdale’s presbytery.

Outside after the hearing, Mr Levey said his mother had rung the Church several times to complain of abuse and he “can’t believe” that Pell didn’t know anything about the reason for Ridsdale’s removal.

Pell has laid the blame for covering up Ridsdale’s offending squarely at the feet of Bishop Mulkearns, who was in charge of the region at the time and had known for a decade of allegations of abuse.

“Unfortunately I would have to say that I can’t nominate another bishop whose actions are so grave and inexplicable,” Pell said. “There might be some but they don’t come to mind. His repeated refusal to act is absolutely extraordinary.”

Pell, who met with Pope Francis at the Vatican ahead of his second day of testimony into institutional responses to child sex abuse, said he had “the full backing” of the Pontiff, as he entered the hotel for the late-night hearing.


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