Victims to hear cardinal’s testimony
BALLARAT — Victims of clergy abuse won permission on Monday to be present next week when Pope Francis’s finance minister testifies from Rome to an Australian inquiry into child sex offenses within the Roman Catholic Church.
Child abuse victims angry that Cardinal George Pell will not return to Australia to testify at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse had requested that they be allowed to hear in person Pell’s testimony by video conference, the inquiry’s chairman Justice Peter Mcclellan said.
“The commission considers that to be a reasonable request,” Mcclellan said.
A crowd funding website set up last week to raise $39 000 to send 15 abuse victims and their supporters to Rome had raised more than $200 000 by Monday.
“The excess money will be spent on mental health services at Pell’s hometown of Ballarat, the website said.
The website said Sunday that the survivors were still awaiting an official announcement from the royal commission on whether they would be allowed to be present when Pell testifies.
Pell, whom the pope placed in charge of the Vatican’s finances in 2014, was to testify next Monday for a third time at the royal commission.
The inquiry ruled this month that the 74-year-old cleric could give evidence by video from Rome because he was too ill to fly to Australia.
Pell said in a statement last week that he would cooperate with whatever arrangements the royal commission made for his testimony.
Mcclellan said a hotel room in central Rome had been selected as the venue for Pell’s testimony, but its communications equipment had yet to be tested.
Pell is to give evidence about how church authorities responded to allegations of child sex abuse in Ballarat and in Melbourne, Australia’s second-most populous city after Sydney.
He is accused of creating a victims’ compensation programme mainly to protect the church’s assets and of using aggressive tactics to discourage victims’ lawsuits, all while he was a bishop in Australia. He has denied any wrongdoing, saying he is the victim of a smear campaign.
Meanwhile, The Herald Sun’s revelations about Pell prompted global abuse survivors’ network SNAP to call on Pope Francis to immediately suspend the 74-year-old from his senior role in the Vatican’s bureaucracy.
“Over a year, more than a dozen cops and they say they’ve found five or 10 alleged victims of Pope Francis’s top aide,” SNAP spokesperson Joelle Casteix said.
“That’s pretty credible and serious. For the safety of kids, the pontiff should suspend Pell.”
Pell has been derided for saying he is too ill to make the journey home to testify in person over the alleged cover-ups.
He has always denied knowing about any abuse in Ballarat. In his statement he attacked the leaking of details of the on-going investigation to the Herald Sun as malicious and the allegations against him as spurious.
“The timing of these leaks is clearly designed to do maximum damage to the cardinal and the Catholic Church and undermines the work of the Royal Commission (inquiry),” the statement said. the public domain since 2002,” it said.
“The Victorian police have taken no steps in all of that time to pursue the false allegations made.
“However, the cardinal certainly has no objection to them reviewing the materials that led Justice Southwell to exonerate him.
“The cardinal is certain that the police will quickly reach the conclusion that the allegations are false.
“The Victorian Police have never sought to interview him in relation to any allegations of child sexual abuse and apart from the false allegations investigated by Justice Southwell, the cardinal knows of no claims or incidents which relate to him.
“He strongly denies any wrongdoing. If the police wish to question him he will co-operate, as he has with each and every public inquiry.”
The new allegations against Pell came into the public domain a day after the pope insisted that any bishop who seeks to protect predatory priests by moving them to a different parish should be obliged to resign.
That statement immediately came under fire from campaigners who say that principle is rarely observed by Church hierarchies around the world.
Francis’s credibility on the abuse issue has also been knocked this month by divisions within his own advisory panel on clerical sex abuse.
British abuse survivor Peter Saunders has been asked to step down from the committee amid a dispute over whether it should get involved in individual cases.
Saunders told AFP this month that he felt betrayed by the Argentinian pope and that the creation of the abuse panel had been a PR exercise. — AFP
Cardinal George Pell.