Royal commission told Cardinal George Pell tried to buy victim's silence about abuse

By Jane Lee
May 20, 2015

Cardinal George Pell at the Vatican last year.

Brother Edward Dowlan in 1994.

[with video]

Cardinal George Pell will be asked to make a statement to the royal commission into child sexual abuse  over claims he tried to bribe a victim to stay silent about his abuse and ignored claims by another that a now-convicted sex offender was abusing children at a Ballarat school.

David Ridsdale was abused by his uncle, convicted sex offender and former priest Gerald Ridsdale, from when he was 11 years old.

Mr Ridsdale told the commission on Wednesday that he called then-Bishop Pell to tell him about the abuse in February 1993. He chose to phone Bishop Pell because he had known him since birth and: "He was the only human being in the church whom I believed was still a friend and who I could trust."

He said Bishop Pell's tone became angry, and he started talking about the things he would need to buy for his growing family, such as a car.

He said Bishop Pell asked him: "I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet."

Mr Ridsdale said his response was: "F--- you George and everything you stand for."

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

"I remember saying to both my sisters: 'the bastard just tried to bribe me'," Mr Ridsdale told the hearing.

"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."

Cardinal Pell has repeatedly denied saying words to that effect. Justice Peter McClellan, chair of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, said the commission would investigate the claims.

Mr Ridsdale also revealed that one of his aunts told him that her husband, then a policeman, had helped move Gerald Ridsdale "quietly out of Edenhope" when they learned of child abuse allegations against him there. His uncle later denied any involvement in this, and said his wife was mentally unwell.

Justice McClellan invited Peter Gray, SC, for church witnesses, to cross-examine Mr Ridsdale on the claims.

Mr Gray said his clients' position was not to question witnesses "whose task is difficult enough as it is".

"There should be no misunderstanding merely because of the stance the church has otherwise taken when it comes to [such issues], they are factual matters that we must investigate and determine," Justice McClellan said.

Mr Gray said: "In the case of the telephone conversation about which Mr Ridsdale has given evidence, the commission is aware that the cardinal has publicly and repeatedly said that his recollection of that conversation is quite different.

"If and when the commission asks the cardinal to provide a statement, which we assume will happen, I expect that he will say the same thing."

The royal commission will also decide whether Cardinal Pell ignored another victim's claim that a now-convicted sex offender was abusing children at St Patrick's College in Ballarat.

Fairfax Media has reported that a student of St Patrick's College approached then Father Pell about the abuse by Brother Edward Dowlan in 1974. Father Pell replied "don't be ridiculous" and left the room.

Most of the victims before the royal commission have been abused by Brother Dowlan, who was sentenced in March over 34 charges of indecent assault and gross indecency for abusing young boys between 1971 and 1985.

The student, Timothy Green, now 53, recounted the story to the commission.

Cardinal Pell has said he does not recall the conversation.

While the commissioners did not usually make findings about whether someone was abused, Justice McClellan said Mr Green's claims were in a "wholly different category" because they dealt with the church's response to allegations of child abuse.

He expected that the commissioners would be asked to make findings about the claims.

Mr Gray declined to cross-examine Mr Green and said the cardinal would likely repeat his rejection of the claims.

When he was about 12, Mr Green said he saw Father Pell at the change rooms of the Eureka Swimming Pool. Father Pell, who was a member of St Patrick's college's alumni, also said mass there occasionally at the time.

While Father Pell would not have known his name, Mr Green believed he would have known he was a St Patrick's student, as he had once thanked him on behalf of the school at a function.

Father Pell greeted Mr Green and his friends as he started to change.

"I was saying something like 'we've got to do something about what's going on at St Pat's," he said.

"Father Pell said 'yes what do you mean?' I said Brother Dowlan is touching little boys. Father Pell said 'don't be ridiculous' and walked out," Mr Green said.

As Father Pell did not ask further questions before dismissing him, "his reaction gave me the impression that he knew about Brother Dowlan but couldn't or wouldn't do anything about it".



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