Cardinal George Pell says in letter he will appear at royal commission into child abuse ‘if needed’ after he is accused of ignoring abuse and even bribing one victim to keep quiet in a wide-ranging Australian inquiry into paedophilia
Australia’s former top Catholic cleric, now Pope Francis’ finance chief, has said he is willing to give evidence in a royal commission into child abuse in Australia.
Cardinal George Pell has denied trying to bribe a victim of a paedophile priest to keep quiet as an inquiry heard of horrifying abuse.
Cardinal Pell said in a letter to the commission’s chair Peter McClellan on Wednesday that he was prepared to appear at the inquiry.
“Without wanting to pre-empt the Royal Commission in any way… I want to make it absolutely clear that I am willing to give evidence should the Commission request this, be it by statement, appearance by video link or attending personally,” he wrote, according to reports in Australian media.
“Like everyone else I am horrified by the accounts that survivors have given in their evidence… and at the enormous impact the abuse has had on them, their families and the community.
“I am also deeply saddened by the way Church authorities have failed in responding to these crimes.”
Abuse survivors have demanded he return to Australia to give evidence on the allegations.
David Ridsdale, who was abused from age 11 by his uncle Gerald Ridsdale, a notorious paedophile priest now in jail, told the commission last week that he confided in family friend Cardinal Pell about the sex assaults in 1993.
He alleged that Cardinal Pell, who was appointed by Pope Francis in February 2014 to make the Vatican’s finances more transparent, went on to ask what it would cost to buy his silence.
The cardinal was also accused of helping to move the disgraced priest between parishes.
Cardinal Pell has previously said he had been following the proceedings but denied trying to bribe David Ridsdale or his family or “offer any financial inducements for him to be silent”.
“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 in a statement last week.
“These matters again require an immediate response and it is important to correct the record, particularly given the false and misleading headlines.”
Cardinal Pell, who is not accused of any sexual abuse, said at the time of the discussion the police were already aware of allegations against Gerald Ridsdale and were investigating.
“Then, and now, I supported these police investigations. I have previously made a sworn denial of these allegations and I reiterate that denial,” he said last week.
“I never moved Ridsdale out of Mortlake Parish. I never moved him anywhere. I would never have condoned or participated in a decision to transfer Ridsdale in the knowledge that he had abused children.”
Cardinal Pell gave evidence in March 2014 to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which was called after a decade of pressure to investigate wide-ranging allegations of paedophilia in Australia.
The commission has heard harrowing allegations of child abuse involving places of worship, orphanages, community groups and schools.
The hearings have heard that every male child aged between 10 and 16 at the St Alipius primary school, where Ridsdale and other paedophile priests worked, was thought to have been molested.
One survivor held up a photograph of his class of 33 boys and said 12 of them had committed suicide.
Another victim, Gordon Hill, described what he called the “horror rooms” at the St Joseph’s Home orphanage where he was sexually abused from the age of five. He said one of the nuns would tell him: “Father wants to cleanse you.”
Nicky Davis, leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Cardinal Pell should appear before the commission again.
“It is vastly inappropriate to respond to sworn evidence by courageous survivors with a media statement that callously dismisses their experience,” she told reporters.
“If Cardinal Pell is at all genuine in his claims to recognise the seriousness of the crime of sexual violation of defenceless children, he would voluntarily return to Australia to give evidence under oath to the royal commission.”
Cardinal Pell said he was committed to complete cooperation with the commission and would “address in full all matters it wishes to raise in any statement requested from me before I make any further comment”.