Cardinal George Pell denies claims he tried to cover-up sexual abuse in Victoria

By Shannon Deery
Herald Sun
May 21, 2015

Cardinal George Pell says he has the “deepest sympathy” for victims.

Cardinal George Pell in the Vatican.

Gerald Ridsdale leaves the Melbourne Magistrates Court.

David Ridsdale pictured in 1994.

CARDINAL George Pell has denied explosive allegations he was complicit in the cover-up of widespread sexual abuse in Victoria.

Australia’s most senior Catholic Cardinal late last night from the Vatican maintained he never knew of any sexual offending by fellow clergy.

“Over the last 24 hours I have been accused of being complicit in the moving of a known paedophile, of ignoring a victim’s complaint, and of bribery,” he said.

“These matters again require an immediate response and it is important to correct the record particularly given the false and misleading headlines.”

He said a claim by victim Timothy Green that he told him about widespread abuse in 1974 was false.

The royal commission heard allegations on Wednesday that the cardinal had refused to act after another victim warned him of widespread sexual abuse of young boys.

Victims say the two incidents — almost 20 years apart — mean Cardinal Pell must return home to give evidence on whether, over that period, he had inside knowledge of the horrific sexual abuse crisis that has destroyed hundreds of lives.

They also say he must explain whether he was part of the church’s cover-up.

Commission chairman Justice Peter McClennan said a formal request would likely be made asking Cardinal Pell to respond to the allegations.

He warned Peter Gray, SC, for church authorities that if the cardinal did not clarify his position, the commission could make findings against him.

Cardinal Pell has consistently said he didn’t know about offending by fellow clergy including Father Gerald Ridsdale, with whom he lived in 1973, until that offending was made public.

One victim, known as BAV, told the inquiry that the then Father Pell had come close to walking in on him being abused.

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

BAV said this occurred when Father Pell, who then lived at the St Alipius presbytery, arrived home just after Ridsdale had abused him.

BAV said he was also abused by Robert Charles Best, one of the country’s most notorious paedophiles.

Ridsdale’s nephew, David Ridsdale, said he phoned then Bishop Pell in February 1993 to disclose his abuse at the hands of his uncle.

Mr Ridsdale said that, contrary to the cardinal’s claims that he had not been a close friend of Gerald Ridsdale’s, he had been a very close friend of the family for many years.

“I told George that I had been abused by Gerald,” Mr Ridsdale said.

“His first reaction was ‘Oh, right’. There was no shock.

“His tone then became terse relatively quickly and I could sense anger in his voice

“I felt like I’d done something wrong.”

Mr Ridsdale said during their conversation Bishop Pell asked: “I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet.”

He said his reply was: “F---, you, George, and everything you stand for.

“George was the first person in the Catholic Church whom I officially told about my abuse by Gerald,” Mr Ridsdale said.

“Some days I don’t know who I’m angrier at — Gerald for being a sick monster, or George for the way he reacted and dealt with the issue. I have zero respect for him.”

Mr Ridsdale joined calls for Cardinal Pell, who has already given evidence twice — once in Sydney and once from Rome, via videolink — to front the commission again, for the third time since it started.

Responding to Mr Risdale’s bribery claim, Cardinal Pell described the accusation as a misunderstanding

“I continue to regret the misunderstanding between us,” he said.

“At no time did I attempt to bribe David Ridsdale or his family or offer any financial inducements for him to be silent.

“At the time of our discussion the police were already aware of allegations against Gerald Ridsdale and were investigating.

“Then, and now, I supported these police investigations.”

The commission heard that Cardinal Pell had been told of allegations of sexual abuse as early as 1974.

Mr Green said he told the cleric he had been abused by Brother Edward Dowlan, but nothing was done.

He said Pell had dismissed him, saying: “Don’t be ridiculous.”

But Cardinal Pell late on Wednesday said Mr Green’s claim he told him of widespread abuse was false.

“As I have stated previously, I have no recollection of a conversation with Mr Green in 1974, more than 40 years ago,” he said.

Dowlan, a convicted paedophile who has since changed his name, has admitted molesting more than 20 young students, including children at St Alipius Boys’ School, where he worked alongside Best and Gerald Ridsdale.

Cardinal Pell said he was committed to cooperating with the royal commission and vowed to address in full all matters it wished to raise with him.

“I have the deepest sympathy for the victims of abuse, their families and the community of Ballarat for what they have suffered,” he said.

“I will answer allegations and criticisms of my behaviour openly and honestly.”

Because Cardinal Pell is now based at the Vatican, where he works closely alongside Pope Francis, he can’t be compelled to appear before the royal commission.

Cardinal Pell is not currently scheduled to reappear at the hearing but has previously said he would comply with requests to do so.



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