Cardinal George Pell to seek legal advice after Pope-appointed commissioner Peter Saunders labels him 'almost sociopathic'

ABC News
May 31, 2015

Peter Saunders says George Pell has a moral responsibility to appear at the royal commission into child sexual abuse.

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Cardinal George Pell says he will seek legal advice after a specially appointed member of the Vatican's commission on child protection accused him of being "almost sociopathic" and called his position "untenable".

A spokesperson for Cardinal Pell called the statements by abuse survivor Peter Saunders "false and misleading", after Mr Saunders called for Cardinal Pell to be sent back to Australia.

"From his earliest actions as an archbishop, Cardinal Pell has taken a strong stand against child sexual abuse and put in place processes to enable complaints to be brought forward and independently investigated," the spokesperson said in a statement.

"Cardinal Pell has never met Mr Saunders, who seems to have formed his strong opinions without ever having spoken to His Eminence.

"In light of all of the available material, including evidence from the Cardinal under oath, there is no excuse for broadcasting incorrect and prejudicial material.

"In the circumstances, the Cardinal is left no alternative but to consult with his legal advisers."

Mr Saunders was appointed by Pope Francis last year to the new commission to protect children.

His comments follow the royal commission's latest hearings in Ballarat which last week focused on the crimes of priest Gerald Ridsdale.

Cardinal Pell has denied he tried to bribe a victim to keep quiet and that he was dismissive of victims and their families.

"Personally I think that his position is untenable because he has now a catalogue of denials," Mr Saunders told Channel Nine.

"He has a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness, cold-heartedness, almost sociopathic I would go as far as to say, this lack of care.

"Given the position of George Pell as a cardinal of the church and a position of huge authority within the Vatican, I think he is a massive, massive thorn in the side of Pope Francis's papacy if he's allowed to remain.

"And I think it's critical that he is moved aside, that he is sent back to Australia, and that the Pope takes the strongest action against him."

Cardinal Pell has previously indicated he is willing to appear before the royal commission if asked to do so.

Church council executive urges commission to call Pell

Catholic Church Truth, Justice and Healing Council chief executive Francis Sullivan said Cardinal Pell must be called upon to testify at the royal commission.

"Obviously what we have had in the last two weeks in Ballarat [were] horrendous stories and revelations," Mr Sullivan told ABC News Breakfast.

"I was there ... and most of us left with more questions than answers, and some of that involves the Cardinal.

"It's imperative that the Cardinal returns to Australia at the request of the royal commission and we get to see everything laid out in full.

"Until we can get to that point, then all of the commentary around this will continue to swirl without us landing on what really happened."

Mr Sullivan said Cardinal Pell had a problem with "openly expressing his feelings", and that his concern for victims had not "come across".

"I know him at a personal level and I know that he does have lots of concerns about individuals who have been abused in the Catholic Church," he said.

"He can appear gruff and dismissive.

"And, again, he needs to explain himself in how he responds to people in an open hearing like the royal commission."

Mr Sullivan said he did not know if Mr Saunders' comments would have had the approval of the papal office, but said they had left Cardinal Pell and the Vatican in a tight position.

"As far as we are concerned here, our council wants everybody involved when they are called to turn up, to fess up, to explain," he said.

"Because we're at a time in Australia as a Catholic Church that ... we cannot afford to send any signal at any time that the Church, its image and its leadership is more important than the ... lives of those who have been abused."

Notorious paedophile priest lived with Pell

Last week, the inquiry heard Ridsdale had once molested an 11-year-old girl in a home he shared with other priests, including Cardinal Pell.

Court documents read to the inquiry revealed the girl believed another priest was at the home at the time of the assault and heard what was going on, but did not intervene.

Ridsdale, now 81, said that may have been true, but that he could not remember who the priest was.

He said he recalled Cardinal Pell living there at the time.

When asked whether Cardinal Pell had spoken to him about his offending, Ridsdale said he could not recall.

However, he later backtracked on evidence it was his barrister who approached Cardinal Pell to support him in court during the 1990s, admitting that he "must have" approached Cardinal Pell himself.

Retired priest John McKinnon, who visited Ridsdale in prison, said no-one within the Catholic Church understood the effect of Ridsdale's abuse at the time.

"Even though in the church we knew it was wrong, I don't think there was any sense of the harm it did," he told the ABC last week.

"It's awful to think of the damage that has been done."


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