George Pell visited St Patrick's College in Ballarat two months before royal commission hearings in town began

ABC News
May 25, 2015

Cardinal George Pell after appearing at the royal commission in Sydney in March 2014.

[with video]

It has been revealed Cardinal George Pell visited his old school, St Patrick's College in Ballarat, on a private trip about two months ago, as calls for him to re-appear at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse continue.

The commission, which began hearing evidence in Ballarat last week, was told Cardinal Pell tried to bribe the nephew of paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale to stay quiet about the abuse he suffered at the hands of his uncle.

Cardinal Pell has issued a statement denying the allegation, but is facing mounting calls to travel to Ballarat from his home at the Vatican to answer questions under oath.

A post on St Patrick's College's website showed Cardinal Pell visited the school in late March.

"He was particularly interested in meeting new headmaster John Crowley for the first time and taking a tour of the college to meet with staff and students and inspect new facilities," the post read.

The page, which said he was on a short vacation to Australia, was temporarily removed from the site on Monday afternoon.

The school's website said Cardinal Pell had not visited the college since 2008 and quoted Mr Crowley as being "thrilled to be able to walk through the college grounds with such a proud Old Collegian who harboured fantastic memories of his time as a student in the 1950s".

"Cardinal Pell has long been a strong and passionate advocate of St Patrick's College and remains close friends with many of his former classmates from his time as a student here," the website quoted Mr Crowley as saying.

"It was a great thrill to be able to escort His Eminence around the college grounds and witness the way he interacted with staff and students alike."

Calls for Cardinal Pell to return to Ballarat

During last week's proceedings, Justice Peter McClellan said it was important for the church to engage with the process in light of Cardinal Pell's statement.

"Just because the Church wants to act in a particular way, it doesn't bind the royal commission," he said.

Abuse victim Stephen Woods also called for Cardinal Pell to give evidence, saying he needed to be held accountable.

"George Pell should absolutely be here," he said.

"He should have absolutely flown back before Ballarat was started so he could have answered some problems that he's left in his wake.

"He won't do the honourable thing and look after victims."

The Catholic Church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council said Cardinal Pell could re-appear before the commission via video-link from Rome.

But the council's chief, Francis Sullivan, said he was not aware of Cardinal Pell's recent visit to Ballarat.

"That's news to me. I didn't know that so obviously it was part of a private mission," he said.

"But one thing is for sure, he's said in the past and I'm sure he will say it again, that he will cooperate fully with the royal commission and do what he can if he needs to bring live evidence in the room."

Mr Sullivan was asked how it was credible that Cardinal Pell did not know of Ridsdale's offending, despite being present at a meeting where it was advised the paedophile priest would be removed from his parish in Mortlake.

"That's exactly why we're here this week ... Ridsdale will turn up via video-link, I think on Wednesday, giving evidence for probably more than one day," Mr Sullivan said.

"Questions like who was at the meeting ... will also be raised with Father [Adrian] McInerney, I'm sure that they'll want written statements from others.

"I don't know what happened at the meeting, but I think we all would like to know and we all need to know.

"The whole point of this exercise is for the Catholic Church to explain itself in full."

He said Cardinal Pell needed to answer questions about whether he knew why Ridsdale was moved.

"Cardinal Pell will need to speak for himself, and he'll need to speak on oath, about any question put to him by the royal commission," Mr Sullivan said.

"We do need as a community, to hear how paedophiles were treated across Australia, because people were moved, there were cover ups, it enabled people to perpetrate again - they're the facts, and we need to know exactly the facts for Ballarat."

Outside today's hearing, abuse survivor David Ridsdale said it was a matter between Cardinal Pell and his congregation.

"The Irish gay referendum has made it clear that it's the people who have the power and not the Vatican," he said.

"So I implore the people of the Catholic community to stand up."


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