Cardinal George Pell Says Resigning Would Be an Admission of Guilt
By Marika Dobbin
Sydney Morning Herald
March 5, 2016
Cardinal George Pell has welled up in a live interview from Rome when talking about a victim of sexual abuse by a paedophile priest, but said he would not resign over the issue.
In the first display of raw emotion from Australia's most powerful Catholic, Pell choked up and stopped talking momentarily when speaking about a meeting with victims that followed his testimony to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
|Cardinal George Pell reads a statement after meeting with abuse survivors in Rome this week. Photo: Marco Di Lauro|
Pell responded during the TV interview with News Corp Australia columnist Andrew Bolt to claims that he appears unmoved or unsympathetic to victims.
"The fact that somebody seems a bit wooden doesn't mean they aren't feeling anything inside," he said. "I found the meeting emotional, but I am a bit buttoned up. That was how I was trained."
Pell spoke about his "deeply moving" reconciliation with David Ridsdale, the nephew of notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, who has accused Pell of bribing him not to go to police.
|Cardinal George Pell giving evidence this week: "this was the real Pell being slowly revealed".|
"I'm a friend of David Ridsdale and I have always been," Pell said. "I regret ... the misunderstanding with him and the way it's been fought out publicly."
"There is a grief when you are in public controversy with someone you obviously like."
He admitted to feeling scared before the meeting with victims that it would become an ugly confrontation.
|Andrew Bolt is in Rome as a 'Sky News contributor'.|
"I didn't want a punch-up that made things worse for the church and for them," he said.
Pell said paedophilia was a broader societal issue, but admitted there had been a "disproportionate amount" within the Catholic church in the past. "We have to plead guilty to that," he said.
He said failure to protect children from paedophiles within the church in both Melbourne and Ballarat was "colossal failure of leadership" by those above him but excused himself as having no "real power" or knowledge at the time to act.
Pell also addressed the most controversial moment of the four day hearing where he said the "sad story" of abuse by Ridsdale "wasn't of much interest" to him when he first heard it.
In a convoluted explanation of the "bad slip", Pell said that in the 1990s, after he had left Ballarat, he "never liked reading in detail about these matters".
"Things that were professionally necessary to know, I was completely ready to study them," he said. "To suggest from that bad slip that I was somehow uninterested in the issue is completely contradicted by the whole of my life."
Pell said he was viewed as an "evil, insensitive stereotype" and a "hate figure" but would not resign because it would be taken as an admission of guilt. Although, he said he would have to tender his resignation anyway when he turns 75 in June because of church protocol. His resignation may not be accepted.
In other revelations during Bolt's one-hour interview, broadcast live from Rome on Sky News, Pell said he hopes to return to Australia again but not on a long haul flight because he has collapsed twice after such trips.
"I've had a pace maker fitted and angioplasty, both provoked by travel to Australia," he said.
He also denied Victorian Premier at the time, Jeff Kennett, pushed him to set up an inquiry process into child sexual abuse, saying he already had the idea of a commission.
It was the Cardinal's first interview since he completed four days of testimony to the commission.
Bolt has been a long-time defender of Pell and last month argued Pell was the victim of "one of the most vicious witch hunts to disgrace this country".
But Bolt this week penned a piece in which he wrote that Australia's most powerful Catholic was either a liar or "just dangerously indifferent to his responsibilities."
It followed Pell's testimony on Tuesday about when he learnt of the offending of notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale. "It's a sad story and it wasn't of much interest to me," Pell said, prompting audible gasps.
Those words "will stain his reputation forever", Bolt wrote in an apparent backflip. However, Bolt followed up with a piece in which he retreated from his criticism.