Pope's finance chief ready to appear at Australia child abuse inquiry

Vatican's finance chief George Pell said he has nothing to hide in connection with the paedofile priest Gerald Ridsdale case from the 1970s.
AFP | By HT Correspondent, Sydney
UPDATED ON MAY 27, 2015 10:12 AM IST

Pope Francis' finance chief said he was willing to give evidence at a child abuse inquiry in his native Australia, as the country's most notorious paedophile priest gave evidence on Wednesday.

Cardinal George Pell, formerly the top Catholic cleric in Australia and now a senior Vatican official, has been accused by a victim of trying to bribe him to keep quiet. He has also been accused of ignoring complaints and being complicit in moving the notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, who appeared at the hearing via videolink from jail.

Pell denied the claims in a statement last week, saying he was horrified by survivors' accounts of what they suffered at the hands of Ridsdale.

For over three decades, from 1950s to late 1980s, Ridsdale abused at least 50 boys as he was moved to different parishes across the state Victoria. Victims have demanded Pell, who was appointed by Pope Francis in February 2014 to make the Vatican's finances more transparent, return to give evidence in person and he said he was willing to do so.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was called after a decade of pressure to investigate wide-ranging allegations of paedophilia in Australia.

It has heard harrowing allegations of child abuse involving places of worship, orphanages, community groups and schools. Pell previously gave evidence in March 2014.

"Without wanting to pre-empt the royal commission in any way, you can't just invite yourself to give evidence," Pell, who is not accused of child abuse, said in a statement. He wanted to quash speculation that he was hiding anything.

"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 hearings this week have focused on shocking abuse in the 1970s, in the Victoria town of Ballarat, and how Ridsdale was able to continue committing offences there and elsewhere.

Now 81 and frail, Ridsdale said he had himself been abused as a youngster. He added that he routinely went to confession over the decades he was a priest but claimed not to have told anyone about the abuse he was committing.

"I didn't confess the sexual offending against children," he said. "Looking back on it, I think that the overriding fear would have been losing priesthood."

Ridsdale has been convicted in four separate court cases of abusing more than 50 children. He will be eligible for parole in 2019.

In his statement on Thursday Pell, who supported Ridsdale in court in 1993 when he admitted widespread abuse, said he was "deeply saddened by the way church authorities have failed in responding to these crimes".

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