Cardinal George Pell‘s appearance before the child sex abuse royal commission has been postponed until February after he pleaded ill health.
Cardinal Pell’s counsel, Allan Myers QC, asked that the Cardinal be permitted to provide his evidence via video link as it was not “reasonably possible” for him to appear in person because of health difficulties which had been exacerbated in recent times.
Cardinal Pell was due to be questioned next Wednesday in relation to the Diocese of Ballarat and the Archdiocese of Melbourne.
However Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said the commission needed evidence of Cardinal Pell’s health. He said video links were not always satisfactory and the previous link had experienced technical difficulties.
Justice McClellan said Cardinal Pell was to be questioned in relation to two case studies and there would be a significant number of documents, so it was preferable that he give his evidence in person. He said he could delay giving evidence until the commission sat again in Ballarat in February.
Justice McClellan said if Cardinal Pell’s health had not improved by then further consideration would be given which might include a further delay.
CARDINAL George Pell has launched a vigorous denial of allegations raised by the royal commission into child abuse in the Catholic Church.
The Vatican-based 74-year-old released a statement to the Herald Sun yesterday, after announcing he could not appear before the commission in person next week due to a worsening heart condition that prevented him flying.
Dr Pell had applied to give evidence by videolink, but that request was rejected by the commission, which hopes he will return to give evidence in Ballarat in February.
In his statement, Dr Pell hit back at accusations his lawyers had unfairly “grilled” child abuse witnesses in the hearing over the past week.
Dr Pell said it was vital allegations against him in regards to what he is claimed to have seen or heard in Ballarat in the 1970s were cross-examined.
“It is basic fairness, and part of the procedural requirements of the royal commission, that Cardinal Pell has an opportunity to test the evidence of witnesses who have made allegations against him,” the statement from his office said.
The second part of the Ballarat hearings, first hosted in the town itself in May this year, are taking place in the Melbourne County Court.
This week a witness, referred to only as BWE, alleged Dr Pell had made a comment about now-jailed paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale to Father Frank Madden while they were getting ready for a funeral in September 1983.
Dr Pell had allegedly said: “I think Gerry’s been r—— boys again.”
The Pell statement yesterday said on that claim: “There were only two funerals at the particular church in September (1983), neither of which Cardinal Pell attended. And Ridsdale had not been in Ballarat for 10 years.”
Another witness, BWF, alleged this week that he visited Cardinal Pell at a presbytery in Ballarat to complain a priest had molested his brother, but he was told to go away.
But the statement from Rome said: “In cross-examination it was revealed Cardinal Pell was not living at the presbytery BWF visited and was working at Aquinas Campus at the time.”
Dr Pell had been expected to leave the Vatican — where is the Prefect, Secretariat for the Economy — tomorrow to be in Melbourne in time for his scheduled appearance at the commission on Wednesday.
Protests were expected outside the court and more than 40 Ballarat victims of Catholic priests’ child sexual abuse were expected to fill the public seats for his appearance.