George Pell tried to bribe abuse victim, royal commission hears

The Guardian
May 20, 2015

Justice Peter McClellan says commissioners expect to make a finding about what (now Cardinal) Pell was told, as it goes to how the church responded.

Cardinal George Pell tried to bribe an abuse victim, the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse has heard.

David Ridsdale, the nephew and victim of Australia’s worst pedophile priest Father Gerald Francis Ridsdale, says he told Cardinal Pell in 1993 about the abuse.

He told the royal commission on Wednesday Cardinal Pell, a family friend, asked him: “I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet.”

Ridsdale said his response had been, “Fuck you George and everything you stand for.”

After he hung up, Ridsdale said, he told his sisters about the February 1993 phone conversation.

“I remember saying to both my sisters, ‘The bastard just tried to bribe me’,” Ridsdale told the hearing in Ballarat.

“I have never stated that Pell offered me anything specific or tangible in our conversation, only that his attempts to direct the conversation down a particular path made me extremely suspicious of his motivations and what he was insinuating.”

The lawyer appearing for the church’s witnesses at the inquiry disputed Risdale’s claim that Cardinal Pell offered a bribe.

Peter Gray SC said the cardinal recalled the conversation differently and said that, if asked, the cardinal would make a written submission.

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

The inquiry also heard from a victim of child sexual abuse at a Victorian Catholic school who says he told Cardinal Pell about boys being abused.

Timothy Green, 53, told the royal commission that he told then Father Pell that something had to be done about Brother Edward Dowlan touching boys.

“Father Pell said don’t be ridiculous and walked off,” Green said.

Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said the commissioners expect to make a finding about what Cardinal Pell was told, as it goes to how the church responded to the allegations.

Counsel Peter Gray SC said he had been instructed that the church would not be saying Green could not be believed.

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“Cardinal Pell, as Mr Green has now noted in his statement, has a different recollection. Mr Green has acknowledged that and that no doubt will be what the cardinal says,” Gray said.

Cardinal Pell, who is in Rome, is expected to be asked to provide a statement to the commission.

Another witness told the inquiry earlier that the Catholic church’s handling of child sex abuse was in some ways worse than the actual abuse.

The victim, known as BAV, said there was not enough support and understanding for victims, with men abused as children at Catholic institutions still committing suicide.

“I believe the church’s handling of the abuse has in some ways been worse than the initial sexual abuse that occurred,” the commission heard.

“The abuse might be historical but suicides by victims of sexual assault are still going and is still happening.”

BAV was abused by convicted pedophiles Father Gerald Francis Ridsdale and Brother Robert Charles Best. Two brothers and a cousin committed suicide after they were also abused, he said.

BAV said five men from his class at Ballarat’s St Alipius primary school had committed suicide and he knew of an additional nine men who went to the school who had also died.

“I have been and continue to be impacted by the grief and loss of losing other victims of Brother Best to suicide. Some of them were my family, brothers and cousins.”

BAV said he knew of other survivors in Ballarat who had issues with alcohol and drug abuse and depression.

“I believe there is not enough understanding of the impact of child sexual abuse and there is inadequate support and services provided to victims of child sexual assault.” He said there should be compensation or some form of pension paid to victims of child sexual assault.

BAV said on one occasion, after Ridsdale has abused him in a bedroom at the presbytery, the other priest who lived there – now Cardinal George Pell – arrived home.

“I saw the back of Father Pell but did not know if he saw me and Father Ridsdale or not.”

Gordon Hill, 72, told the commission he was sexually and physically abused at Ballarat’s St Joseph’s Home, in what he called horror rooms and dungeons.

He said he was subjected to electric shock therapy when the nuns wanted to find out if he had told anyone of his abuse, after he was found in a local hospital.

“It was like some sort of electric shock therapy,” he said after travelling 3,000km from Western Australia to read his statement to the commission hearing in Ballarat. “They wanted to know what I had told them at the hospital.”

Hill said the nuns at the home would thrash him and he was abused by three priests, including by one in a confessional box while parishioners gave their confessions.

“If I made a noise as I was sitting beneath the priest’s bench in the confessional box he would whack me across the face to shut me up,” Hill said. “If any Catholics had known what was going on they would have been horrified.”

A lawyer for the Sisters of Nazareth, who administered St Joseph’s Home, said they had only recently received his statement and Hill had so far chosen not to contact the sisters.


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