George Pell critic Peter Saunders asked to withdraw 'false allegations' made on 60 Minutes

By Georgina Mitchell
June 7, 2015

Accuser: Peter Saunders.

A man who called Cardinal George Pell "sociopathic" over his alleged treatment of survivors of child sexual abuse has been asked to withdraw his comments in a letter from Cardinal Pell's lawyer, after members of the Church defended the Cardinal in public statements.

In an interview on 60 Minutes on May 31, Peter Saunders - a member of the Vatican's advisory commission on child sexual abuse - said Pell's position had become "untenable" and the Pope should act now to remove him from the Vatican because he was "a dangerous individual" who displayed a cold-heartedness and contempt for abuse victims.

"He has a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness, cold-heartedness - [it's] almost sociopathic I would go as far as to say, this lack of care," Mr Saunders told the program in an interview in Rome.

"I think he is somebody who, understandably, victim survivors will have a huge, huge issue with.

"In all the interviews, in all I've read, in all I've heard, I have seen not a shred of evidence that George Pell has any sympathy, empathy or any kind of understanding or concern for victims and survivors of these crimes."

In the 15-minute segment, which featured historical comments from George Pell but which the Cardinal refused twice to be interviewed for, Mr Saunders said it was highly likely Pell and his peers knew paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale had abused children. He called for them to face criminal charges if this knowledge was proven.

Cardinal Pell has repeatedly denied he had any knowledge that Ridsdale had molested children at nine parishes.

Mr Saunders further called for Pope Francis to act to remove Pell immediately and send him back to Australia because he was, in his personal opinion, making a mockery of the Pope and of abuse victims and survivors.

"I think anybody who is a serious obstacle to the work of the commission, and to the work of the pope in trying to clean up the church's act over this matter, I think they need to be taken aside very very quickly and removed from any kind of position of influence," he said.

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

After the program went to air, church officials in Australia - including the Archbishops of Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Sydney, Hobart and Canberra-Goulburn - publicly expressed their support for Cardinal Pell and praised his consideration for abuse victims, while the Vatican Press Office distanced itself from Mr Saunders' views, stating they were entirely his own. 

Then on Thursday, a letter was sent by Cardinal Pell's lawyer Richard Leder, informing Mr Saunders he should have done further research before he made his claims on television.

In the letter, Mr Leder says it has become clear Mr Saunders' comments are inconsistent with the position of the Church.

"The Cardinal is concerned that you have presented yourself as a spokesperson for the Committee, adopting the authority of the Pontifical Commission and the Holy See in a wholly misleading manner. This is confirmed by the many media reports that suggest you made the comments in an official capacity. The Cardinal is concerned that you allowed this to occur," the letter says.

"As you know, over the past two years, the Cardinal has given evidence twice before the Royal Commission and once before the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry. He has refuted on oath the various allegations which you chose to repeat on 60 Minutes. In the light of those appearances, your comments were either uninformed as to the relevant history, or were deliberately selective."

The letter says the interview would be understood as meaning the Cardinal had lied and covered up his involvement in relation to child sexual abuse; was somehow in disgrace in the Vatican and the Pope had to remove him; was sociopathic and lacking empathy; and was obstructing the work of the Pontifical commission.

"These matters are objectively false," it says.

"The Melbourne Response, which he pioneered, has provided compensation and made available ongoing counselling for hundreds of victims and their families. His compassion for victims is expressed in concrete, practical help - hardly the actions of one you choose to brand as 'sociopathic'.

"The Cardinal is concerned that you knew, or should have known at the time, that each of those matters was factually wrong, and before speaking, you should have made proper enquiries to ensure your opinions were based on reliable information.

"The Cardinal invites you to correct the public record and withdraw these false allegations."

On Sunday evening, a correction was not immediately forthcoming.


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