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Cardinal Pell, his lawyers and the Royal Commission

  • 24 November 2015

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is about to recommence its case study on the Catholic Church in Ballarat. Last week, the Melbourne Herald Sun reported: 'Victims of child sexual abuse look set to be grilled by lawyers for Cardinal George Pell in a bid to quash explosive allegations he was complicit in a widespread cover-up.'

Cardinal Pell will have legal representation separate from the legal team appearing for the Church. He will return from Rome and give evidence at the public hearing next month.

I am one of those Catholic priests who thinks that the church's Truth Justice and Healing Council has done a good job insisting that the needs of victims be paramount. From the start, the council's lawyers told the Royal Commission that they would not be cross-examining witnesses, testing their credibility, and doubting their evidence of sexual abuse by church personnel.

Wanting to assist with healing for victims and wanting to learn all available lessons about how to avoid future abuse and cover-ups, the Church has been prepared to place second issues of institutional and personal reputation of church officials. The wellbeing of victims has been put first during the church's conduct of the commission.

Our critics would say this is too little, too late. They may be right. But as a church we are in the business of repentance, forgiveness and making a fresh start.

We were given a fine example recently by the Anglican Archbishop Philip Aspinall who appeared before the commission admitting past mistakes in the conduct of two Brisbane schools, intelligently wrestling with the complex issues, and always putting justice and healing for the victims first.

Things get difficult now that the commission has Cardinal Pell back in its gaze. His reputation is on the line and the commission has spared no effort in scrutinising his past actions. No one else has been called three times before the commission.

The commission even went to the trouble of conducting a private hearing and then a public hearing with the notorious pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale giving evidence. Ridsdale did not come up to proof, clearly causing considerable upset to Justice McClellan and his counsel assisting Ms Gail Furness SC.

The judge reminded Ridsdale the commission could track down proof of anyone having visited Ridsdale in jail between the private and public hearings. McClellan almost seemed to be suggesting that Ridsdale might have been nobbled. In any event, Ridsdale