Australian judge, Justice Peter McClellan, will decide tomorrow whether Cardinal George Pell, above, should be allowed to give evidence to the child abuse Royal Commission via video link from Rome rather than appearing in person.
According to this report, Australia’s most senior Catholic has, for a second time, asked for his evidence to heard in this way because he is apparently in no condition to fly.
But lawyers for the victims told the Royal Commission that Pell’s medical condition, which has been revealed to them but not made public, were “very common” in anyone of the Cardinal’s age, 74.
Pell had been due to give evidence in person at the second stage of the Ballarat hearings in Melbourne late last year. But in December the commission heard that he was too unwell to appear.
At the time, the chair of the commission, Justice McClellan, refused Pell’s request. He said the commission would wait until February to see if Pell’s condition improved so that he could fly to Australia for the hearings due at the end of February.
Counsel for abuse victim Graeme Sleeman, Paul O’Dwyer SC, told the commission that Pell’s medical condition “fades into insignificance” considering that:
Witness after witness has had to spell out the most intimate details of their life in the witness box, sometimes not anonymously.
He called for Pell’s medical report to be made public. His comments were supported by other lawyers for victims.
Pell’s lawyer, Allan Myers, urged the commission to keep the majority of the medical report private, saying disclosing it would:
Lead to debate in the press of the medical condition of Cardinal Pell, and there is no public interest in that.
Myers tendered medical evidence to the commission that said flying could pose a risk to Pell’s health. The condition is related to Pell’s heart, with the medical documents signed by two cardiologists.
Pell, who supported the paedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale during his first court appearance for child sex offences in 1993, has always denied knowing of any child abuse occurring in Ballarat while he worked there as a priest and with a clerical group called the College of Consultors during the 1970s and 80s. Pell also spent time living with Ridsdale in 1973 but has said he had no idea he was a paedophile.
Child sex abuse victim, David Ridsdale, had previously given evidence before the Commission that Pell urged him to to keep quiet about his molestation at the hands of his uncle and then priest, Gerald Ridsdale. Pell has previously denied these allegations.
Gerald Ridsdale committed more than 130 offences against children as young as four between the 1960s and 1980s, including while working as a school chaplain at St Alipius, the royal commission has previously heard. He is now in prison.
On Friday David Ridsdale criticised the lack of transparency around Pell’s condition. Some victims still suffering the effects of their abuse had been required to give evidence before the commission, including under cross-examination by Pell’s lawyers, numerous times, he said.
The lack of transparency in Pell’s medical condition is incredible considering the private details that we victims had to reveal in public. The need to have him in person is the same reason we needed to be in the presence of the court and processes.
Meanwhile, it is reported here that another inquiry into clerical sex abuse has run into a spot of bother.
The Papal Commission on Sexual Abuse in Rome passed a no-confidence vote against an “outspoken” commission member, Peter Saunders, above, branding him a “campaigner” who talked too much to the media. Commission members decided he should take a leave of absence.
But Saunders has refused to quit, saying his treatment by the Vatican is “outrageous”.
Saunders, who as a child was abused by priests, has been highly critical of the commission, set up in 2014.
Responding to a Vatican statement about his leave of absence, Saunders said:
I was never told in advance of any such statement. I find it outrageous that I was not told, much less that the statement occurred before I had had any time to reflect on what I might do next.
I have not left and I’m not leaving my position on the commission. I was appointed by His Holiness Pope Francis and I will only talk to him about my position.
For me, as a survivor, the commission is a disgrace … They believe that child abuse is behind us, but it is in no way behind us.
Hat tip: BarrieJohn (Saunders report)