Australian survivors of clerical child sex abuse are travelling to Rome to attend the testimony of Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s finance chief, to a Canberra-commissioned inquiry that has heard allegations he attempted “to silence” a victim.
Cardinal Pell, a key figure in Pope Francis’s drive to clean up the Holy See’s finances, was due to give evidence via video link in Rome following the inquiry’s decision to absolve him from flying to Australia to attend in person due to a heart condition.
At the proposed hearing on Sunday, the cardinal is expected to repeat earlier denials of an allegation made by a survivor of abuse, David Ridsdale, that Cardinal Pell tried to bribe him to stay silent.
The decision by Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to allow Cardinal Pell to give evidence via video link has angered some abuse survivors, who wanted the cardinal to face victims while he gave evidence on his and the Church’s role in responding to abuse when he worked in Ballarat and Melbourne in the 1970s and 1980s.
“I wanted to eyeball him, just to let him know that they haven’t beaten us,” Gordon Hill, a survivor who was sexually abused by priests in orphanages in Victoria, told local media.
However, a group of about 15 survivors, including Mr Hill, are expected to attend the hearing in Rome following a crowdfunding campaign that raised the A$200,000 (US$145,000) to cover travel expenses. This campaign was aided by the release of a charity song Come Home (Cardinal Pell) by singer and comedian Tim Minchin, which has been viewed 1m times on YouTube.
“What we are hoping for is the same we’ve given, which is just truth,” Mr Ridsdale told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Mr Ridsdale told the Royal Commission last year that Cardinal Pell had tried “to silence him” in 1993 when he telephoned the cardinal to report that his uncle Gerald Ridsdale, a priest in Ballarat, was abusing him. Cardinal Pell released a statement following Mr Ridsdale’s evidence denying the allegations.
“At no time did I attempt to bribe David Ridsdale or his family or offer any financial inducements for him to be silent,” the statement said.
Last week Cardinal Pell issued a statement condemning leaks to an Australian newspaper that published a story alleging police were investigating claims he abused boys while working in Victoria.
“The allegations are without foundation and utterly false,” said the statement.
Cardinal Pell this week wrote to Robin Scott, Victoria’s acting minister of police, to formally request an inquiry into the “maliciously timed leaking of details of a police investigation into purported allegations against him”.
Cardinal Pell was an assistant priest in Ballarat East from 1973 to 1983. He later became Archbishop of Melbourne and then of Sydney.
Last year he was appointed by Pope Francis to undertake a sweeping reform of the Vatican’s finances, which for decades have been mired in scandal.
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