Cardinal George Pell has rejected the allegation that he has lied under oath to the inquiry into child molestation by Australian priests.
The cardinal has faced four days of questioning by the royal commission, giving evidence by video from a hotel room in Rome. He has continuously denied knowing the extent of the offences carried out against children by members of the Catholic clergy in Victoria up until the 1990s.
“I suggest to you very directly that you are lying about this to protect your reputation,” Barrister Jim Shaw put to the cardinal on Thursday, the final day of his appearance before the inquiry.
“It is a baseless allegation,” Pell insisted.
Pell also refuted the allegation that he paid attempted to pay off David Ridsdale, a victim of abuse, to protect a priest, Gerard Ridsdale, who was the victim’s uncle and is now in jail for multiple sex offences.
“It is implausible that I tried to bribe him,” Pell said.
The cardinal admitted to the inquiry he thought Ridsdale had “done a great damage to the church”. However, he also said the disgraced priest had done “other good things like burying the dead and celebrating sacraments.”
Following Pell’s appearance, David Ridsdale told reporters, “If he is telling the truth, that would make him an extraordinarily ignorant man.”
Australia’s most senior Catholic has faced four days of intense questioning in front of cameras, the hearing being broadcast live nationally by the ABC.
Cardinal Pell refused to return from the Vatican to Australia for the hearings, citing a heart condition.
In response, some of the victims and their supporters travelled to Rome to witness in person Pell giving evidence to the inquiry. They were unable to do so.
However, Pell has subsequently agreed to meet with the victims in Rome, at the same hotel from where he has given his evidence to the royal commission, without the presence of lawyers or cameras.
The victims have also requested to meet the Pope. Cardinal Pell said in a released statement that he would endeavour to help them get that audience.
“George is still defending the current model of the church, this model is a proven failure in protecting children against sexual abuse by their clergy,” Phil Nagle, one of the victims, told reporters in Rome on Wednesday night (Rome time).
“He has turned his back on us.
“We’re getting tired of what George is saying on the stand and we’ve only got two more days left here in Rome and we want to be heard.
“We want somebody to show that they care about us.”
IMAGE: Cardinal George Pell (File image, Andreas Solaro / Getty)