Cardinal George Pell began his second day of giving evidence to the sex abuse royal commission by claiming he had “not much interest” in paedophile priest Gerald Risdale’s offences in the 1970s and ’80s.
The Sydney-based audience watching the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse cried out in outrage when Cardinal Pell referred to Risdale’s indisgressions as “a sad story” that “wasn’t of much interest” to him.
When asked to clarify his words, Cardinal Pell went on: “The suffering, of course, was real and I very much regret that but I had no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evils that Ridsdale had perpetrated”.
“Well, an individual can only do what it is possible to do and everybody has a responsibility to try to preserve the moral health of the community in ways that are real and practical,” he said.
The Cardinal met with the Pope on Tuesday morning, according to the Papal’s official records.
The subject of their conversation was not known, although Cardinal Pell emerged from the meeting and told reporters, “I have the full backing of the Pope”.
Risdale was on the agenda for the second day in a row, with a handwritten note from a Ballarat diocese council meeting implying he was sent to Apollo Bay in Victoria after he was found to have offended.
Cardinal Pell continued to blame individuals rather than endemic structural faults for the way Risdale’s paedophilia was handled.
When asked who should be liable for moving Risdale from parish to parish, rather than reporting him to police, the Cardinal said the blame lay “overwhelmingly” with Bishop Mulkearns, who is said to be of ill-health and possibly dying.
The commission heard a number of stories involving Risdale’s offending at multiple parishes, including that Cardinal Pell was present at a meeting where the decision to move Risdale was made, but Carinal Pell maintained he had no knowledge that Risdale’s moves were due to paedophilia.
“To suggest as you have repeatedly that knowledge about Ridsdale was secret is just not true,” Ms Furness told Cardinal Pell.
But the Cardinal said a number of people knew about Risdale – just not him.
“If we were to come to the view that you did know (about Ridsdale), you would be culpable too,” Justice McClellan told the Cardinal.
Cardinal Pell replied: “That’s correct.”
Abuse survivors were again present for Cardinal Pell’s evidence, having been flown over thanks to a crowdfunding campaign which started in Ballarat, in Victoria’s west.
At the conclusion of the day’s evidence, the survivors were interviewed and expressed their disappointment in the lack of the culpability the Cardinal was willing to accept.
One survivor, who had been sent to live with Risdale in Mortlake as a child, told reporters it was common knowledge he was living alone with the paedophile priest, contrary to Cardinal Pell’s evidence.
For the second day, Cardinal Pell’s evidence was marred with slight delays and technical difficulties relating to the video link.
The first day of Cardinal Pell’s testimony on Monday concentrated on a number of paedophile priests who offended in Ballarat during the Cardinal’s tenure as episcopal vicar for education in Ballarat from 1973 until 1984.
“Let me just say this, as an initial clarification, and that is I’m not here to defend the indefensible,” Cardinal Pell said during Monday’s hearing.
Survivors of child sex abuse arrive for another night of evidence with Cardinal Pell in Rome pic.twitter.com/BfCMzY6Wad
— Lisa Millar (@LisaMillar) February 29, 2016