Cardinal George Pell says he is not avoiding facing child sex abuse victims after putting off flying to Australia.
Cardinal Pell’s appearance before the child abuse royal commission was postponed after his doctors deemed it was unsafe for him to make the long-haul flight from Rome to Melbourne.
Claims that Cardinal Pell is refusing to attend or face victims of sexual abuse are false and ridiculous, his spokesperson said in a statement from Rome on Sunday.
“Cardinal Pell’s whole career is a story of stepping up to meet challenges, not avoiding them,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said Cardinal Pell, who has previously appeared before the commission twice, is determined to give evidence to the commission’s inquiries into child sex abuse by clergy in the Melbourne archdiocese and Ballarat diocese.
“Above all, he wants to do everything that he can to assist survivors in finding justice and healing, and understands the importance of his evidence for them.”
A number of clergy abuse victims on Friday said they were furious after Cardinal Pell’s unsuccessful attempt to give his evidence to the commission as scheduled from Wednesday via videolink from Rome.
The nature of Cardinal Pell’s health problems was not revealed during Friday’s commission hearing, with the medical evidence deemed confidential.
However, his office said Cardinal Pell has a long-standing heart condition that had recently worsened and it was his doctors’ advice that he not undertake long-haul flights.
Cardinal Pell has also cancelled a speaking event in Florida in the US in January, his spokesperson said.
The Vatican’s financial manager continues to carry out his duties in Rome.
Cardinal Pell in May volunteered to return to Australia to give evidence before the Ballarat and Melbourne inquiries.
Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said the cardinal’s appearance would be deferred to February’s Ballarat sitting in the hope his health would improve, otherwise his evidence may be further delayed to a time when he can safely travel to Australia.