Cardinal George Pell has finished his fourth and final day of giving evidence via video link from Rome to the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney.
On Thursday morning (AEDT) the hearing kicked off with Cardinal Pell being asked why so many paedophile priests were placed in Ballarat during the 1970s and ’80s, to which he said it was a “disastrous coincidence”.
By the end of the day’s proceedings he fronted a media pack for the first time since the hearing began on Monday.
When asked if he believed that he was the victim of a witch hunt, Cardinal Pell replied “I’ll leave that to you to figure out”, before heading home to bed.
During Thursday’s proceedings, Cardinal Pell denied knowing Father Gerald Risdale was moved from parish to parish because of paedohilia crimes, as time limits weighed on lawyers representing victims.
Survivor David Risdale – who said he was abused by his own uncle, Father Gerald Risdale, – told the commission on Thursday that Cardinal Pell had told him to keep quiet about the offences.
Mr Risdale described a 1993 phonecall in which he informed Cardinal Pell of his uncle’s crimes, before the Cardinal told him: “I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet”.
The Cardinal denied the claims, saying: “I’m not even sure what keeping quiet means”.
“I have never impeded or discouraged anyone from going to the police,” he told the commission, saying Mr Risdale was the one who didn’t want to go to the police.
Cardinal Pell has for four days claimed the rampant sexual and physical abuse that took place during his time working in Ballarat and Melbourne was kept from him in a series of cover ups.
‘You are lying’
Barrister Jim Shaw again raised a meeting that Cardinal Pell attended where it was decided Father Risdale would be moved to another parish.
Pell had repeatedly claimed paedophilia was not mentioned at the meeting and he was not aware that was the reason for moving Father Risdale.
“I suggest very directly that you are lying about this to protect your own reputation,” Barrister Shaw said to the Cardinal.
But Cardinal Pell maintained his own innocence, and admitted the church “too often did not care adequately for the survivors and children”.
‘The boy wasn’t asking me to do anything’
Cardinal Pell said when a schoolboy complained to him about paedophile priest Father Dowlan “he just mentioned it casually in conversation, he never asked me to do anything”.
When the Cardinal was asked why he didn’t do anything about the allegation, he said “people had a different attitude then … the boy wasn’t asking me to do anything about it”.
Cardinal Pell was also probed about a time when a boy came to tell him about paedophile priest Father Dowlan’s offences.
The man (whose name was withheld) said he also knocked, on then, Father Pell’s door as a boy and told him about Father Dowland.
He said Cardinal Pell yelled at him and slammed the door.
“If anything like this happened, it didn’t happen with me,” Cardinal Pell said in response.
Asked why the Cardinal didn’t take further action regarding Father Dowlan, he said “because I had no idea that the Christian Brothers were covering up in the way in which it’s now apparent.”
Not his responsibility
In a number of cases, Cardinal Pell admitted to hearing rumours or being warned of paedophile priests in his area, but denied having had the responsibility to investigate them.
When quizzed in a letter sent by a group of parents from Doveton Holy Name school, concerning paedophile priest Father Searson, Cardinal Pell said it was not in his job description to look into the offences or report them to police.
“If they’d asked my opinion I would have given it but … that is not within the normal competence of an auxiliary bishop,” he said.
Pell apologises for ‘offensive’ comment
The Cardinal also took the opportunity to apologise for some inflammatory statements made on the second day of his evidence.
On the topic of Father Gerald Risdale’s prolific paedophilia, Cardinal Pell had told the commission he had “no interest” in the “sad story”.
“I was very confused, I responded poorly … it was badly expressed,” he told the commission on Thursday, saying he had thought they were speaking on a different issue.
The Cardinal has laid much of the blame on Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who is due to give evidence via video link from the nursing home he now resides in.
Survivors to now meet with Pell
On Wednesday, sexual abuse survivors rejected an offer to meet with Cardinal Pell on the basis there would be a gag order on them and they would not be allowed to bring support staff, family, lawyers or media to the meeting.
But on Thursday morning survivor Andrew Collins said they would be part of a meeting with the Cardinal, and they were hopeful it would not be in small groups.
Mr Collins also said the group would meet with the Pope’s commission on the protection of minors and were hopeful the Pontiff himself would agree to an audience.