2 March 2016
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Australian victims of child sex abuse who are in Rome watching the testimony of Cardinal George Pell have said they want a meeting with Pope Francis.
Cardinal Pell is being questioned by an Australian Royal Commission over what he knew about sex abuse by priests in Australia.
He is testifying via videolink, after he was excused from returning home due to ill health.
He has said he would be happy to meet with the survivors.
In a statement Cardinal Pell proposed meeting small groups of survivors without lawyers or media present on Thursday.
He also said he would be “happy to assist with requests to meet Pope Francis”, but warned he had to “rely on the officials responsible for considering these requests”.
Representatives for the survivors, who earlier said they had lost interest in talks with the cardinal, said they would be prepared to meet him on condition that it was “a level playing field”.
But they said a meeting with Pope Francis was more important to them.
“George Pell has made it very clear he does not have the ability, the power or the interest… so we need to speak to the boss,” abuse victim David Ridsdale said.
‘An extraordinary world’
Cardinal Pell was questioned over his knowledge of the priest Peter Searson on day three of his testimony on Tuesday.
Searson died in 2009 without facing charges, despite a litany of complaints against him ranging from sexual abuse of children to animal cruelty.
One complaint was that Searson, of the outer-Melbourne parish of Dovetown, stabbed a bird to death with a screwdriver in front of children.
Cardinal Pell told the inquiry he was not adequately briefed by the Catholic Education Office, who told him about the allegations against Searson in a “non-specific way”.
Other senior church members were told of the specific allegations. Cardinal Pell said information may have been hidden from him because of his tendency to ask “inconvenient questions”.
Commissioner Peter McClennan said the cardinal’s evidence did not make sense, because if the Catholic Education Office did not want questions raised they would not have told the other senior figures about Searson’s behaviour.
Counsel assisting Gail Furness said Cardinal Pell’s position that multiple senior figures deceived him was “extraordinary”.
Cardinal Pell responded: “This was an extraordinary world. A world of crimes and cover ups. And people did not want the status quo to be disturbed.”
“You put yourself in this world as being the person who would disturb the status quo, do you?” Ms Furness replied.
Cardinal Pell said: “I not only disturbed the status quo but when I became archbishop, I turned the situation right around so that the Melbourne Response procedures were light years ahead of all this obfuscation and prevarication and deception.”
When asked whether he could have done any more during his time as an auxiliary bishop, the cardinal conceded only that he should not have ascribed the resignations of paedophile priests to ill health.
He also said he was not in favour of creating a “corporate model” Catholic Church with extra layers of management.
Speaking at a press conference after the hearing, David Ridsdale said Cardinal Pell “accused everybody of being a liar and deceitful”.
“If he is telling the truth that would make him an extraordinarily ignorant man,” Mr Ridsdale said.
A fourth day of testimony will be held on Wednesday, with the cardinal answering questions from lawyers representing abuse victims and the church.
Cardinal Pell and the Royal Commission
- The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse was set up in 2012, largely in response to allegations surrounding the Catholic Church
- Cardinal Pell has testified twice already
- Questioning during his latest appearance from Rome has focused on what he knew about the activities of paedophile priests in Ballarat and Melbourne, particularly Gerald Ridsdale and Peter Searson
- Cardinal Pell has repeatedly asserted that he does not bear responsibility for the failure to act against Ridsdale, Searson and others
- He was appointed inaugural prefect of Holy See finances in the wake of scandals at the Vatican Bank
- Previously he held the positions of Archbishop of Sydney and before that Archbishop of Melbourne