VATICAN CITY — A television broadcast revisiting charges that Australian Cardinal George Pell mishandled abuse claims was “false and misleading” and “outrageous” in its coverage, a spokesman for the cardinal said Sunday.
“From his earliest actions as an archbishop, Cardinal Pell has taken a strong stand against child sexual abuse and put in place processes to enable complaints to be brought forward and independently investigated,” the cardinal’s spokesman said May 31.
“In light of all of the available material, including evidence from the cardinal under oath, there is no excuse for broadcasting incorrect and prejudicial material.”
Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, said that May 31 that Cardinal Pell has “always responded carefully and thoroughly to the accusations and questions posed by the competent Australian authorities.”
Their statements come in response to a May 31 Australian television broadcast that included comments from clergy abuse survivor Peter Saunders, a British member of the Pontifical Council for the Protection of Minors.
Saunders called for the removal of Cardinal Pell, claiming the cardinal’s position on Australian abuse cases is “untenable.” He characterized the cardinal’s rejection of the accusations against him as a “catalogue of denials.”
Saunders told Australia’s Channel Nine program 60 Minutes that the cardinal has a history of denigrating people and acted “with callousness, cold-heartedness, almost sociopathic.”
Cardinal Pell’s spokesman said that the cardinal has never met Saunders, who “seems to have formed his strong opinions without ever having spoken to His Eminence.” In two separate statements, the spokesman said Saunders has done “important work” in assisting abuse victims, but said Saunders is “not well informed” about the claims against the cardinal and their treatment in previous hearings.
The spokesman said the cardinal is consulting legal advisers.
Cardinal Pell is a member of the Council of Cardinals advising Pope Francis and a past archbishop of the Sydney and Melbourne archdioceses. He is also the prefect of the newly formed Secretariat for the Economy, which is overseeing Vatican finances.
Father Lombardi added that Cardinal Pell’s public statement on the matter “must be considered reliable and worthy of respect and attention.”
The Vatican press office spokesman said Saunders’ statement was “evidently given in an entirely personal way and not on behalf of the Commission, which is not competent to investigate or to pronounce specific judgments on individual cases.”
In a May 20 statement, Cardinal Pell rejected separate accusations that he had been complicit in moving a “known pedophile” Gerald Ridsdale, of bribing a victim of the later-laicized priest, and of ignoring a victim’s complaint. He said that he addressed many of these inquiries about his actions during a 2013 inquiry by the parliament in the state of Victoria.
In addition to the Victorian inquiry, Cardinal Pell has previously testified twice before the royal commission examining institutional responses to child sex abuse. The royal commission on June 1 said it will call Cardinal Pell to testify again.
The cardinal said May 20 that his role in the Diocese of Ballarat’s College of Consultors from 1977 to 1984 had no authority over then-priest Gerald Ridsdale or any other priest of the diocese. He said he did not recall the diocese’s then-bishop raising any pedophilia allegations against Ridsdale at the meetings and would never have condoned or participated in a decision to transfer the priest knowing he had abused children.
Ridsdale, who is now 81, has been convicted of more than 100 legal criminal charges related to abuse of children in Australia.
At one time, the priest shared a house in the Diocese of Ballarat with other priests, including the future Cardinal Pell, and abused at least one girl there.
David Ridsdale, the priest’s nephew, said he was abused by his uncle from age 11 to age 15. He alleged that when he reported the abuse to Cardinal Pell in 1993, who was then an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne, Pell attempted to pay him to be silent. David Ridsdale reported the abuse to police. Father Ridsdale was indicted soon after for indecent assault on several boys, including his nephew, Australia’s ABC News reports.
Another abuse survivor, Timothy Green, told the commission that Cardinal Pell was dismissive when he reported abuse by a religious brother at St. Patrick's College in Ballarat.
On May 20 Cardinal Pell professed respect for Green but said he had no memory of Green or of a conversation with him in 1974, adding: “to the best of my belief, this conversation did not happen.”
The cardinal said he remains “extremely sympathetic” to David Ridsdale due to the “horrible abuse” he suffered from his uncle. The cardinal said that the police were already investigating the charges at the time of his discussion with the priest’s nephew and that he supported the investigation at the time and continues to support it.
The cardinal said abuse of children by priests and religious brothers are “profoundly evil” crimes.
On May 31 he pledged his “complete cooperation” with the royal commission and voiced his “deepest sympathy” for abuse victims and their families.