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Tuesday 20 February 2018

Pope's finance chief promises to appear at Australian child abuse inquiry

Cardinal George Pell, head of the Vatican's Secretariat for the Economy Credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images
Cardinal George Pell, head of the Vatican's Secretariat for the Economy Credit: Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Bonnie Malkin

Australia’s former top Catholic cleric – now Pope Francis’s finance chief - 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."

Read More: Cardinal denies he tried to buy the silence of abuse victim

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."

Read More: Cardinal accused of ignoring child sex abuse

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."

Read More: Senior Cardinal in the Vatican labels same-sex marriage referendum 'a defeat for humanity'

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.T

he 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.

Read More: Cardinal in Britain prays for Irish 'No' vote in marriage referendum

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."

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