Image:Peter Blenkiron, a child sex abuse victim, wears a T-shirt with the words “No More Silence” in front of the Quirinale hotel in Rome, Italy, March 2, 2016. REUTERS/Max Rossi
By Philip Pullella and Jane Wardell
ROME/SYDNEY (Reuters) – A high-ranking Vatican official on Wednesday denied trying to bribe an Australian man who was sexually abused as a child by a Roman Catholic priest to ensure his silence in a bid to protect the church.
Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s treasurer, was giving evidence via video link from Rome for the fourth consecutive day to Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse.
Given Pell’s high rank within the church, his grilling over cases involving hundreds of children that occurred decades ago in Australia has taken on wider implications about the accountability of church leaders.
On his final day of scheduled evidence, Pell was questioned in detail by lawyers representing the victims about allegations that he knew of the abuse that was rampant in the church in Australia from the 1960s to the 1990s but chose to do nothing.
David Ridsdale, abused by his priest uncle, Father Gerald Ridsdale, who was later convicted of 138 offences against 53 victims, has previously told the commission that Pell had asked him what it would take to keep him quiet about the abuse.
“It is implausible that I tried to bribe him for a number of reasons,” Pell told the commission. He said he knew the police were already involved in the case, so he would have had no motive to do so.
“It’s implausible because I was an auxiliary bishop and I had no access to money or – no access to significant resources,” he said. “It’s implausible because, of course, the attempt to bribe someone is criminal.”
Pell said he regretted later walking beside Ridsdale, with whom he shared a presbytery for a time as younger priests, to court in a gesture of support.
Pell has told the inquiry that the church made “enormous mistakes” and “catastrophic” choices by refusing to believe abused children, shuffling abusive priests from parish to parish and over-relying on counselling of priests to solve the problem.
Pell also said he was deceived and lied to by superiors as a young priest in the 1970s and has denied he ignored complaints or that he was complicit in the transfer of a paedophile priest.
However, he has acknowledged he heard rumours about Brother Ted Dowlan’s inappropriate behaviour with boys at a Christian Brothers school. Dowlan was later jailed for abusing 31 boys.
“With the experience of 40 years later, certainly I would agree that I should have done more,” Pell said.
His failing memories of what he knew about many individual cases has angered many of the 15 abuse victims and supporters who travelled to Rome to see him give evidence.
The victims, who successfully lobbied to be in the same room as Pell after he said he was unable to travel to his native Australia because of heart problems, have called for a meeting with Pope Francis.
They are to meet with Pell after the hearings and with Father Hans Zollner, a member of the Vatican’s commission advising the pope on how to prevent abuse.
Church sexual abuse broke into the open in 2002, when it was revealed that U.S. bishops in the Boston area moved abusers from parish to parish instead of defrocking them. Similar cover-ups have since been discovered around the world and tens of millions of dollars have been paid in compensation.
(Editing by Dan Grebler)
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