Child sex abuse inquiry: Cardinal George Pell tried to bribe victim of paedophile to stay quiet, royal commission hears

By Danny Tran And Loretta Florance
ABC News
May 20, 2015

Cardinal George Pell will be called upon to give evidence to the royal commission into child sex abuse.

David Ridsdale outside the royal commission hearings in Ballarat.

[with audio]

Cardinal George Pell tried to bribe the nephew of paedophile Gerald Ridsdale to stay quiet about the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his uncle, an inquiry has been told.

Justice Peter McClellan said Cardinal Pell would be called on by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to make a statement about the Catholic Church's response to alleged abuse.

David Ridsdale, the nephew of Ridsdale, told the inquiry hearings in Ballarat that he reported the abuse by his uncle to Cardinal Pell in 1993.

He said Cardinal Pell was not shocked and instead allegedly asked Mr Ridsdale what it would take for him to stay quiet.

"George then began to talk about my growing family and my need to take care of their needs. He mentioned how I would soon have to buy a car or house for my family," he said.

"I remember with clarity the last three lines we spoke together.

"Me: Excuse me, George, what the fuck are you talking about?

"George: I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet.

"Me: Fuck you, George, and everything you stand for."

Mr Ridsdale said after he rejected the offer, he hung up.

"After I spoke to my sisters, I was furious at George's response and I decided to call the police," Mr Ridsdale said.

"I rang the Bentleigh police station and they said someone would return my call ... about an hour later, the police returned my call and said: 'Are you aware your uncle was to be charged later today?'"

He said he was not, and later the police took him to the station for a long and "ultra-specific" interview about the abuse he had suffered.

Gerald Ridsdale was charged the following day with indecently assaulting David Ridsdale and several other boys.

The lawyer representing the Catholic Church's witnesses at the royal commission disputed claims that Cardinal Pell tried to bribe Mr Ridsdale.

Peter Gray SC said the cardinal had a different memory of the conversation.

Mr Gray said the cardinal would make a submission if asked.

"If and when the commission asks the cardinal to provide a statement ... I expect he will say the same thing," Mr Gray said.

Another survivor, Timothy Green, told the royal commission that the cardinal was dismissive when he reported that Brother Edward Dowlan was abusing boys at St Patricks College in Ballarat.

"He said 'don't be ridiculous'," Mr Green said.

"Father Pell didn't ask any questions, he didn't ask 'what do you mean?' or 'how could you say that?'

"He just dismissed it and walked out. His reaction gave me the impression that he knew about Brother Dowlan, but couldn't or wouldn't do anything about it."

Cardinal Pell, who was an assistant priest in Ballarat East from 1973 to 1983, later became Archbishop of Melbourne and then Sydney and now oversees the Vatican's finances.

He has previously confirmed accompanying Ridsdale to his court hearings in 1993, saying he did not realise at the time the impression this would give to victims.

Justice McClellan told Mr Gray that the evidence heard had raised "serious questions" about the church's response to child sex abuse.

"There must be no misunderstanding about this, these are significant and serious questions as to the way your client has responded to the allegations," he said.

David Ridsdale describes years of sexual abuse

David Ridsdale described years of abuse at the hands of his uncle, beginning when David was 11 years old, at a parishioner's farm in Edenhope during the school holidays.

"After that, Gerald took every opportunity to initiate sexual interaction with me," he said.

"He mainly abused me during school holidays or on weekends. Initially it was masturbation and then kissing and then oral sex.

As a priest, Gerald held an almost supernatural level of power in our family and exerted a great deal of control over the family.

David Ridsdale

"I remember the first time we were in the bush somewhere and he tried to make me perform oral sex and I gagged.

"He used to get angry if I couldn't perform the way he wanted. He never fully anally penetrated me despite trying many times."

He said the abuse continued until he was 15 years old.

Mr Ridsdale said the "charismatic" priest was the "shining light on my father's side of the family".

"I believe he represented the pinnacle for [my paternal grandmother's] Catholic achievement," he said.

"As a priest, Gerald held an almost supernatural level of power in our family and exerted a great deal of control over the family.

"He was treated as being better than his siblings and took almost full advantage of his exalted status."

He told the commission that Ridsdale once brought a boy to his grandparents' house, when he was a priest in Mortlake, as the boy's parents were going through a divorce.

"I remember that while we were at my grandparents' home Gerald stood the boy on the table and was giving him Eskimo kisses and kissing him inappropriately in front of the members of the family who were present," he said.

"I cannot recall exactly who was there, but it was more than just my immediate family.

"I remember being disturbed that nobody said anything to Gerald at the time.

"I remember as my parents were driving home from my grandparents' house, someone commented that Gerald's behaviour with the boy was weird. Nothing else was said."

Call for Cardinal Pell to apologise

Another witness appearing at the Royal Commission has also called on Cardinal Pell to apologise to victims.

The man, who cannot be named, was abused by a member of the clergy while he was at St Alipius Primary School.

He told the royal commission that Cardinal Pell should acknowledge the abuse that went on under his watch.

"I would also like Cardinal George Pell to publicly acknowledge that child sexual abuse was committed by clergy and Brothers under his watch as the parish priest in Ballarat East," he said.

"I would like him to apologise for this."


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