ABC News (Australia)
26 May 2015
Photo: Cardinal Pell says he is “deeply committed to assisting the royal commission”. (AAP: Paul Miller)
Cardinal George Pell says he is willing to travel to Ballarat to give evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
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 previously denied the claims but issued another statement today saying he would front the hearings in Ballarat if he was asked to do so.
“Without wanting to pre-empt the royal commission in any way – you can’t just invite yourself to give evidence,” he said in a statement.
“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 by attending personally.”
Ballarat was one of the most horrific sites of child abuse in Australia.
Abuse victims have called on Cardinal Pell to give evidence to the inquiry to answer questions about the Catholic Church’s response to the abuse.
“So far I have not been asked to give evidence in any form, but as I have said repeatedly, I am deeply committed to assisting the royal commission and to doing anything I can to help survivors,” Cardinal Pell said in the statement.
“This includes giving evidence in person, if asked to do so.”
Victims’ advocate welcomes ‘step forward’
It was revealed earlier this week that Cardinal Pell visited his old school, St Patrick’s College in Ballarat, on a private trip about two months before the hearings began.
A post on St Patrick’s College’s website showed Cardinal Pell visited the school in late March.
The webpage, which said he was on a short vacation to Australia, was temporarily removed from the site on Monday afternoon.
In today’s statement, Cardinal Pell said he wanted to quash speculation that he was unwilling to front the royal commission.
“Like everyone else I am horrified by the accounts that survivors have given in their evidence during the Ballarat hearings, and at the enormous impact the abuse has had on them, their families and the community,” he said.
“I am also deeply saddened by the way Church authorities have failed in responding to these crimes.”
Victims’ rights advocate Wayne Chamley, of Broken Rites, welcomed Cardinal Pell’s announcement.
“I think there’s only one way that he can respond and that is to be prepared to give evidence under oath,” he said.
“That means also that he will be able to be cross-examined by barristers representing various people of the court.
“So this is a step forward.”
Mr Chamley said he expected Cardinal Pell’s evidence could be heard during the second round of hearings in Ballarat later this year.
Cardinal George Pell says he will give evidence to commission into child sexual abuse if requested
Victoria’s worst paedophile priest has told a royal commission he can’t remember living with Cardinal George Pell or “having any dealings with George at all”, despite the prominent Catholic leader walking him to church for his first court appearance.
For years victims have criticised Cardinal Pell – then a bishop – for accompanying Gerald Ridsdale to the Melbourne Magistrates Court in 1993.
Ridsdale told the royal commission from prison on Wednesday that the only conversation he had with Cardinal Pell at the time was on their 10-minute walk from the St Franciscan Monastery to the court.
“I can’t remember when I first met him … I’ve never had much to do with him,” he said.
Although records show the two men lived at the same Ballarat presbytery in the early 70s, Ridsdale said it was his barrister who had suggested Cardinal Pell as a character reference and asked him to accompany Ridsdale.
“The barrister was looking for people who might come and speak on my behalf and Pell was one of the people he suggested,” he said.
The commission has heard that Ridsdale personally approached Ballarat priest Father Adrian McInerney, who ultimately provided a good character reference for him at this court appearance.
Asked by the commission’s chair, Peter McClellan, what Ridsdale thought Cardinal Pell would say, he replied “I don’t know, I think we were clutching at straws really.
“I don’t know what benefit anyone coming to speak on my behalf … would’ve been to me or my cause, to my hearing or sentence. But the barrister said we need some people to come along and support me.”
Ridsdale’s offending against children spans more than three decades from the 1950s to the late 1980s, during which time he was moved from parish to parish across Victoria.
Cardinal Pell has apologised at the royal commission for any offence caused by accompanying Ridsdale to court.
On Wednesday, Ridsdale said that he had little to do with then Father Pell and denied having any recollection of living at the Ballarat East presbytery with him.
“I can’t remember actually being there with George,” he said. “I can’t remember him in the house … I’ve never had much to do with him.”
Ridsdale said he “would have met him, he was a Ballarat-born-and-bred man, although I think he was some years behind me in priesthood and I think he did all his studies overseas.”
St Alipius Parish priest Father McInerney told the commission on Tuesday that Ridsdale had personally asked him to support him in court. He said he agreed to do this without knowing what the court matter was about: “I took him at his word it was a minor matter.”
Father McInerney said he was horrified and aghast when he first heard Ridsdale’s charges read out in court, but went on to give the character reference, unaware he could at that point change his mind about doing this and leave.
Speaking outside the hearing, David Ridsdale, who was a victim of his uncle’s offending, said it appeared to be “another case of selective Vatican memory”. “I’d be curious to know who’s visited or rang him in the last six weeks,” he said.
Cardinal Pell reiterated that he would appear in person commission if required, in a letter to the Justice McClellan, on Tuesday night.
“Without wanting to pre-empt the Royal Commission in any way – you can’t just invite yourself to give evidence – 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 by attending personally.”
“Like everyone else I am horrified by the accounts that survivors have given in their evidence during the Ballarat hearings, and at the enormous impact the abuse has had on them, their families and the community.”
George Pell says he is prepared to appear before child abuse royal commission
‘I am willing to give evidence should the commission request this,’ cardinal writes in letter to Justice Peter McClellan
Australian Associated Press
27 May 2015
George Cardinal Pell in Sydney in 2014. Photograph: Jane Dempster/AAP
Cardinal George Pell, Australia’s most senior cleric, has told the chair of the royal commission into institutional responses to child sex abuse that he is prepared to give evidence in person.
“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 by attending personally,” the Vatican offical said in the letter to Justice Peter McClellan on Tuesday night.
He said he had been horrified by the allegations of abuse in Ballarat and was saddened by the way church authorities had dealt with reports of them.
Abuse victims have given evidence that Pell bribed them to keep quiet, ignored complaints and was complicit in moving paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale to a different parish. They have called on him to return to Australia to face the royal commission.
In the letter, Pell says he has not yet been asked to give evidence in any form. “But as I have said repeatedly, I am deeply committed to assisting the royal commission and to doing anything I can to help survivors,” he said.
“This includes giving evidence in person, if asked to do so”.