George Pell: I hope my appearance has contributed to a healing
By Amanda Banks
March 03, 2016
|George Pell arrives for his last day of evidence.|
|David Ridsdale, left, Andrew Collins, Phil Nagle and Tony Wardley, members of the group of victims and relatives of church sex abuse, talk to reporters as they arrive at the Quirinale hotel in Rome.|
|Gerald Ridsdale with George Pell|
|Cardinal Pell faces day three of the Royal Commission into child sex abuse.|
Cardinal George Pell has said he hoped his appearance before the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse had "contributed a bit to healing, to improving the situation".
Speaking in Rome after he gave evidence over four days, he said: "All the leadership of the church in Australia is committed to avoiding any repetition of the terrible history of the past and to try to make things better.”
He will meet a group of survivors from Ballarat who are in Rome to watch his testimony.
“I grieve for the suffering of the people whom I regard as my own people,” he said.
Giving evidence today, Cardinal Pell denied an explosive allegation that he offered a bribe to a victim of child sex abuse to "keep quiet", saying the accusation is implausible and based on a "radical misunderstanding".
Fronting the royal commission for his fourth day of evidence this morning, he also expressed regret for his choice of words during earlier testimony at the hearing.
Cardinal Pell, who is giving evidence to the hearing in Sydney on video from Rome, said he had been "confused" and responded "poorly" when he said the sad story of abuse by notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale in the 1970s and 1980s had not been of "much interest" to him at the time.
Questioned by lawyer Stephen Odgers, representing Ridsdale's nephew and abuse victim David Ridsdale, Cardinal Pell said it was "implausible" that he would have tried to bribe him during a telephone conversation in 1993.
David Ridsdale claims Cardinal Pell asked him what it would take for him to keep "quiet" about his abuse.
But this morning, Cardinal Pell said he had never attempted to dissuade David Ridsdale or anybody else from reporting his abuse to police and rejected a suggestion his primary interest had been to protect the Church.
He said he regarded David Ridsdale as a friend and he had offered him his help, describing their conversation as "more relaxed and
"I accepted his claim that he had been abused, what was implausible was that I tried to bribe him," Cardinal Pell said.
He said police had already been aware of complaints at the time of the conversation and he was an auxiliary bishop who did not have access to significant financial resources.
Asked by Mr Odgers why he had accompanied Gerald Ridsdale to court after he pleaded guilty to child sex offences, Cardinal Pell said he had been asked to appear with the offender and was observing his Christian duty.
"It is appropriate activity to be kind to prisoners...and those who are at the bottom of the pile like Ridsdale," he said.
WALKING WITH RIDSDALE A MISTAKE
Cardinal said it was a mistake to walk pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale to court in 1993.
A photograph of Dr Pell, who was then an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne, and Ridsdale walking together is often used by critics of the Catholic Church as evidence it was more inclined to support pedophile priests rather than victims of child sexual abuse.
Cardinal Pell said he was asked in May 1993 to either give evidence or give Ridsdale a reference.
There were prolonged discussions with Ridsdale’s lawyer, he told the child abuse royal commission by audio visual link from Rome.
“I made it quite clear that I was not going to dispute any of the allegations, that I was not going to imply any disrespect for the victims, the survivors,” Dr Pell said.
“I certainly was proposing to say that although I was unaware of much of what he’d done, that already it had done great damage to the church.”
The cardinal said he told the lawyer the only thing he would say was that, as a priest, Ridsdale had done good things like burying the dead and celebrating the sacraments.
The lawyer then said he wouldn’t call Dr Pell to give evidence and asked him to walk Ridsdale to court instead.
“And I said yes. I now realise that was a mistake,” he said.
Cardinal Pell explained he walked with Ridsdale believing - in line with Christian teaching - in being kind to prisoners.
The photograph led to the formation of Broken Rites, a Melbourne-based support group for victims of clergy abuse.
The group uses the image on its internet homepage.
A DISASTROUS COINCIDENCE
Questioned by lawyer Martine March on behalf of another victim, Cardinal Pell told the hearing he thought it was a "disastrous coincidence" that four or five priests had aggregated in the area of Ballarat.
"The placements were made by the leadership of the Christian Brothers," he said.
"I think their leadership in this area was pretty disastrous, but I would not think for a minute that they put all those people together for some specific purpose."
Cardinal Pell said while he had not suggested he was the target of a witch hunt, that idea had occurred to him.
I SHOULD HAVE DONE MORE
Questioned by Michael Fitzgerald, representing a victim identified as BWF, Cardinal Pell denied he had been confronted during a specific conversation at the Ballarat presbytery over complaints about Christian Brother Edward Dowlan and had told the boy to go away.
"I deny it completely and explicitly," he said. "It is false evidence."
But he did concede another boy had come to him with a complaint that Dowlan, now a convicted paedophile, was misbehaving with boys.
Commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan interjected to describe it as a serious complaint and question what he had done in response.
Cardinal Pell said he had not done anything immediately but had later raised the matter with the school chaplain and accepted the assurance that the Christian Brothers were dealing with the issue.
"With the experience of 40 years later, certainly I would agree that I should have done more," Cardinal Pell said.
Asked by Justice McClellan why he needed the experience of 40 years, Cardinal Pell said the complaint had not been specific.
"And the boy was not asking me to do anything about it, but just lamenting and mentioning," Cardinal Pell said.
Justice McClellan again interjected: "You and I have had this discussion on more than one occasion. Why was it necessary for people to ask you to do something rather than for you to accept the information and initiate your own response?"
Cardinal Pell referred to being a "Young cleric" at the time" but said he did not excuse his "comparative lacke of activity."
DISCUSSION WITH POPE FRANCIS
Questioned by lawyer Jim Shaw, Cardinal Pell said he had spoken to Pope Francis after his first day of evidence on Monday.
He said he had arranged for a summary of the commission's daily activities during his evidence to be given to the Pope and Secretary of State.
But he said he had not discussed his evidence with Pope Francis, who he told reporters when arriving for his second day of testimony on Tuesday continued it back him.
During questioning by Mr Shaw about a meeting where Dowlan's transfer was being discussed, Cardinal Pell maintained that there had been no mention of his sexual abuse of boys.
"Paedophilia is abhorrent and if it was mentioned I would have remembered," Cardinal Pell said.
Justice McClellan said it was now known that the sexual abuse of boys was the true reason for Dowlan's transfer to another parish.
"If we accept your evidence...we would have to accept that the true reason was never mentioned, but the false reasons were?" he said.
Cardinal Pell responded: "The Church too often did not care adequately for the survivors and children."