Sex Abuse Survivors Plea To Pope Francis: 'This Is About Children'
By Eoin Blackwell
March 03, 2016
|George Pell in the witness box in Rome on Thursday|
|The letter sent to Pope Francis by survivors of clerical sex abuse in Australia. The note was acquired by newspaper La Repubblica in partnership with The Huffington Post Italy.|
Cardinal George Pell says he hopes his appearance before the Royal Commission into child sex abuse contributes to healing, as abuse survivors say they feel lied to after four days of testimony.
Pell on Thursday told the commission he "didn't do anything about it" after a school boy complained to him about a paedophile Christian brother at a Victorian school, and tried to clarify his earlier statement that abuse by paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale was of no interest to him.
Speaking outside the Hotel Quirinal after the hearings, Pell said he hoped his testimony would contribute to healing.
"It's been a hard slog, at least for me. I'm a bit tired," he said.
"But the Royal Commission process is designed to try to make the situation better for the future, for the survivors and to prevent the repetition of all this suffering in the future. I hope that my appearance here has contributed a bit to healing, to improving the situation."
He said Australia's church leadership was committed to avoiding past history.
Pell will meet with survivors of abuse in Ballarat on Friday.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse is investigating how church authorities handled allegations of sex abuse in Victoria in the 1970s, 80s and 90s.
Earlier in the day a group of survivors who traveled to Rome for the hearings told reporters in a statement they felt lied to.
"We feel we have been deceived and lied to," a group said, reading a statement.
"The royal commission at some stage in the future will give a recommendation on the evidence given by George. We feel George has not been honest nor truthful. George will have to live with this chosen course."
During questioning Pell, 74, said he remembered a conversation with a boy from St Patricks College "speaking to me very briefly and fleetingly" about christian brother Ted Dowlan, who abused 20 children in Victoria between 1971 and 1986.
Pell was asked by commission chair Peter McClellan what the boy said to him in 1974.
"He said something like Dowlan is misbehaving with boys," Pell said.
When asked what he did about it, Pell replied: "I didn't do anything about it."
"Well, I eventually did. I eventually inquired with the school chaplain."
He said he didn't go straight to the school, but said with the experience of 40 years later he should have.
McClellan then asked why the 40 years experience was necessary.
"People had a different attitude then. There was no specifics about the activity, how serious it was and the boy wasn't asking me to do anything about it but just lamenting and mentioning it," he said.
"It was quite unspecific."
He also said it was a "vast overstatement" to say he could have put a stop to the abuse.
"I did take the opportunity to ascertain the reliability of the rumors. I was told there was something in them and that it was being dealt with."
Pell told the commission he has arranged for Pope Francis and the vatican's secretary of state to receive a summary of each day's evidence, but he has not discussed it with him.
During the first hour of Thursday's hearing, Pell attempted to wind back his earlier statement that abuse committed by paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale was a "sad story and it wasn't of much interest to me", and again denied he asked abuse survivor David Ridsdale "what it would take to keep him quiet."
Survivors of sex abuse committed by Catholic clergy have contacted Pope Francis to ask for a meeting to discuss protecting children.
Pell has already agreed to meet with survivors of clerical sexual abuse, but victims have said they lost faith in him following his second day in the witness box, and began a push to meet the Pope.
Pell has maintained he was kept in the dark by church officials about specific allegations about child abusing clergy.
He shocked observers on Tuesday when he told the Commission that Father Gerald Ridsdale's abuse of children at Inglewood was "A sad story and it wasn't of much interest to me".
On Thursday he said he expressed himself badly.
"I remember messing up this sequence completely. I regret the choice of words. I was very confused, I responded poorly," he said.
"It was badly expressed.
"I have never enjoyed reading the accounts of these sufferings and I tried to do that only when it was professionally and absolutely appropriate because the behaviour's abhorrent and painful to read about."
Pell was later asked by a lawyer representing a sex abuse survivor called BWE for his view on the reasons behind why so many child sexual abusers were in East Ballarat in the 1970s he replied: "I think it was a... disastrous coincidence."
The cardinal was also asked if he felt victimised following public suggestions in Australia he was the victim of a witch-hunt.
"I have never expressed such a view but I must confess the idea has occurred to me," he said.
He again denied asking David Ridsdale, the nephew and victim of paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, what it would take to keep him quiet.
The commission also heard he ignored Rome when, after becoming archbishop, he sacked violent paedophile priest Peter Searson.
"I was quite clear of my obligations to the community, so I must say I just ignored the Roman decision and Rome didn't push the point," he said.
Abuse survivors are understood to be negotiating with Pope Francis' office about meeting with him ahead of their departure from Rome on Friday.
"This is about children," the note faxed to the Vatican begins.
"Children that were abused and damaged in the past. Protecting children into the future.
"We would like to request a meeting to discuss a commitment to the children of the past and the children of the future to implement systems so this is never to be repeated."
Survivor Steve Woods, also Rome for the hearings, said he wanted to Pope to meet with them so he could hear the pain of victims.
"We are wishing the Pope intervenes here," he told reporters.
On Wednesday night a survivor of sex abuse at the hands of Doveton parish priest Peter Shearson in the mid-1980s told the ABC she will always believe Pell knew there was abuse going on.
"I will always believe he knew. Always," Julie Stewart told the ABC's 7.30.
"I believe [Pell] did his job well. He did his job by protecting the church's assets and protecting the church's name, but I don't believe he protected the children.
"His way of making it up to us is just standing up and saying, 'I did know. I'm sorry. What can I do to fix this?'"