Cardinal George Pell says he was deceived by a senior clergyman over the activities of a paedophile priest.
Australia’s most senior Catholic is presenting evidence from Rome via video link over several days to an Australian Royal Commission into child sex abuse.
On Tuesday Cardinal Pell was questioned about paedophile Gerald Ridsdale, a priest who was repeatedly moved between parishes in the 1970s and 80s.
He accepted no responsibility for the failure to report Ridsdale’s abuse.
Survivors have flown to Rome to see the cardinal testify after he was excused from returning home due to ill health.
Cardinal Pell repeatedly criticised Ronald Mulkearns, who was bishop of Ballarat between 1971 and 1997, for withholding information about Ridsdale.
Cardinal Pell was one of the consultors who gave advice to Bishop Mulkearns from 1977 to 1984.
Particular attention was paid to a meeting of the consultors that Cardinal Pell attended in 1982, where a decision was taken to move Ridsdale for a sixth time.
Counsel assisting the commissioner, Gail Furness, said it was “implausible” that Cardinal Pell and other priests at the meeting did not know the reason for Ridsdale’s relocation.
Cardinal Pell responded: “That is complete nonsense.”
Screen grab shows Australian investigators (top right) questioning Rome-based Cardinal George Pell via video linkImage copyrightAlamy
Screen grab shows Australian investigators (top right) in Sydney questioning Rome-based Cardinal George Pell via video link
‘Grave and inexplicable’
He said that responsibility for Ridsdale’s relocation lay “overwhelmingly with the bishop”, who used “gentle and euphemistic language” to disguise the truth of Risdale’s actions.
“I can’t nominate another bishop whose actions are so grave and inexplicable … His repeated refusal to act is, I think, absolutely extraordinary,” Cardinal Pell said.
The cardinal provoked gasps from survivors earlier in testimony when he said the news of Ridsdale’s abuse was “a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me”.
“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,” he said.
After the testimony abuse survivors strongly criticised Cardinal Pell’s testimony.
“It beggars belief that he could have said he wasn’t interested in hearing about the crimes of my uncle,” Ridsdale’s nephew David Ridsdale told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“We are speaking of moral leaders of towns and cities, and for them to have no interest in such behaviour seems remarkable.”
Before entering the Rome hotel where he provided his testimony, Cardinal Pell said he had the Pope’s “full backing”.
A protester holds a placard outside the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in SydneyImage copyrightGetty Images
A protester holds a placard outside the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney
On Monday, the first day of the Royal Commission hearing, the cardinal said that the Catholic Church had made “enormous mistakes” in dealing with claims of sexual abuse.
Cardinal Pell, who is not accused of sexual abuse, denied knowing about paedophile priests who were active in the Ballarat diocese during his time there as a priest in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse is holding its second round of inquiries into child sex abuse that occurred in the city of Ballarat in Victoria state.
Cardinal Pell was a priest in Ballarat and lived in a seminary with a notorious paedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, in the early 1970s.
Ridsdale committed more than 130 offences against young boys while working as a chaplain at Ballarat’s St Alipius school between the 1960s and the 1980s.
Even though Cardinal Pell is not facing criminal charges, detractors have questioned the extent of his knowledge of child abuse, and say it could make his Vatican position untenable.
The hearing is expected to run until Wednesday or Thursday Australian time.
Australian child abuse victim David Ridsdale (right) and other observers arrive at the Quirinale hotel in Rome to hear Cardinal Pell give evidence, 28 Feb 2016Image copyrightReuters
Australian child abuse victims arrive at the Rome hotel where Cardinal Pell started giving evidence late on Sunday
Cardinal Pell and the Royal Commission
Cardinal Pell, Australia’s most senior Catholic, was appointed inaugural prefect of Holy See finances in the wake of scandals at the Vatican Bank
He was previously Archbishop of Sydney and before that Archbishop of Melbourne
He held positions in and around the Victorian city of Ballarat in the 1970s and 1980s
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 before the commission twice already over matters not related to Ballarat
The cardinal was excused from attending this round of the hearings due to a heart condition, but critics have accused him of avoiding victims
A group of victims has flown to Rome to hear his testimony, which will be given from a hotel function room.