George Pell Tells Andrew Bolt He Won't Resign from Vatican Position
By Melissa Davey
March 4, 2016
| George Pell speaks with Andrew Bolt in his exclusive interview on Sky following his four days of testimony to the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. Photograph: Sky|
Australia’s most senior Catholic, Cardinal George Pell, has said he will not resign from his position as the chief financial controller of the Vatican, because to do so would be “an admission of guilt” that he failed to respond to child sexual abuse.
He also said he has reconciled with one of the most vocal critics of the church and abuse survivor, David Ridsdale, describing their meeting on Thursday as “deeply moving”.
In an exclusive interview with conservative media commentator Andrew Bolt for Sky News, Pell was questioned for an hour about his past four days of evidence before Australia’s child sex abuse royal commission.
Pell’s answers to Bolt were similar to those he gave to the commission, but were more relaxed and in a few moments, less dispassionate and, according to Bolt, less “wooden”.
“Cardinal George Pell is the most hated man in Australia, if you believe the media,” opened Bolt in the interview that aired live at 9am Rome time Friday.
Pell had been described, Bolt said, as everything from “scum” to a “fruitcake” and a “sociopathic liar”.
“How devastating is that for you?,” Bolt began.
“It’s very, very difficult, and very, very upsetting,” Pell replied. “There’s no way around it.” Later in the piece, he added he would like people to “give me a fair go”.
“Everybody needs a fair go, and certainly the Catholic church is entitled to that,” he said.
Bolt pointed out it was a series of pieces of evidence and remarks given by Pell to the commission over the previous four days that were responsible for the contempt held by some towards him and the church.
Hundreds of children’s lives had been destroyed because of people like Pell’s failure to act when they heard allegations that abuse was occurring, Bolt said.
The commission heard that while Pell was at Ballarat East and a consultor to the Bishop of the diocese, Ronald Mulkearns, parents, teachers, some of the other consultors and Mulkearns himself knew Father Peter Searson was abusing children.
Pell himself was presented with a list of complaints about Searson stating that he had tortured animals in front of children and was using their toilets. Pell maintains he knew nothing of the sex abuse allegations, was deliberately kept in the dark by Mulkearns, and felt confident the issue was being handled. Searson went on to abuse dozens more children.
“Were you dangerously incurious?” Bolt asked.
“No, I don’t think that’s fair, because I wasn’t incurious,” Pell said. “I had no knowledge that anything grossly wrong was happening.”
Christ had died an innocent man for the sake of others, Bolt said. Had it ever occurred to Pell that he should consider resigning for the sake of the church?
“No, I wouldn’t resign,” Pell replied. “That would be taken as an admission of guilt.”
However, he conceded that while paedophilia was a problem throughout society, “there was a disproportionate amount of it in the Catholic church”.
“We’ve got to plead guilty to that,” he said.
Bolt pointed out that Pell for 10 months lived with the notorious pedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale.
One of Australia’s worst paedophiles, Ridsdale, committed more than 100 offences against children as young as four, and in 1993 was jailed. While he was an assistant priest at Ballarat East from 1973 to 1983, Pell allegedly was involved in moving Ridsdale between parishes, a way of dealing with him rather than involving police. Pell maintains he did not know of Ridsdale’s abusing until he was eventually charged in the early 90s.
He walked him to the court.
“To walk him [to court], that was seen as somehow taking his side rather than victims,” Pell said. “I never intended it like that and it’s that that I regret very deeply.”
However, many priests accompanied criminals to court cases, and, Pell added, he had only accompanied a paedophile to court “once”. But when Pell was questioned about a meeting that occurred between himself and a group of abuse survivors, which included Ridsdale’s nephew and victim David Ridsdale, Pell became momentarily emotional.
David Ridsdale maintains that he went to Pell to tell him his uncle was abusing him but that Pell asked him what it would take to keep quiet. As he did during the royal commission, Pell vehemently denies that he ever told Ridsdale that. However, after meeting with him on Thursday, Pell said he believed David Ridsdale was a friend.
“I’ve always been a friend of Ridsdale’s,” Pell said.
“If there’s one thing in all these terrible muck-ups I regret it is the misunderstanding with him and the way it’s been fought out publicly. I was quite friendly with his dad, there’s an added grief when you’re in public controversy with someone who you like and whose family you like.”
“The reconciliation between us was deeply moving. We’ll keep in contact.”
It was one of the rare glimpses of emotion Pell displayed publicly in the past week.
However, David Ridsdale told Guardian Australia that Pell’s words as an exaggeration. “That is slightly exaggerated,” he said. “We made progress, but there is a way to go. I made it clear that was the case.
“I am not an angry man and can show magnanimity in pursuit of a bigger picture.”
Bolt asked Pell why it was he came across as so insensitive. Why was he unable to speak so emotively during the commission hearings? Why had he described allegations about pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale’s abusing children as “a sad story not of much interest to me”?
The comments about Gerald Ridsdale, Pell said, were “a bad slip” made because he was “muddled” – “19 hours of evidence isn’t nothing”.
He later added, “I’ve got a formidable temper, which I almost never show, but the discipline that is needed not to lapse in that way, I think helps explain my wooden appearance.
“When you become a hate figure people ... imagine the worst stories about you,” he also said. “They jump at shadows.”
Bolt brought up the allegations first revealed in the Herald Sun two weeks ago that Pell himself was under investigation for abusing children. Perhaps the police commissioner had been poorly informed, Pell replied.
Bolt asked if he was he suggesting the commissioner was the source of the leaks of the investigation to the media?
“I don’t know where the leak ... I don’t know where the misinformation came from,” Pell said.
The church “hadn’t done badly” in terms of stamping out child abusers over the past 20 years Pell said, adding that it was he who established the Melbourne Response, the Catholic church’s internal means of investigating – and compensating victims of – child sexual abuse within its institutions. The Melbourne Response has been highly criticised by child sex abuse victims and survivors for being inadequate during previous commission hearings.
“Do you think it was easy for me to step in and clean things up in Melbourne?” Pell said.
“I’d have a much quieter life here in Rome if I didn’t. I’m not a fool.”
But to succeed at anything tough, he said; “You need to decide to do it.
“You need to conquer your fears”.