Child sex abuse survivors say it's unbelievable a man of Cardinal George Pell's intelligence was unaware of a pedophile priest's offending when two Victorian communities and local clergy knew about it.
The cardinal told the child abuse royal commission on Monday night that while he was on a Ballarat diocese committee that advised on the transfers of priests he was never told of the offending of pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale in the 1970s.
Australia's highest-ranking Catholic, now head of the Vatican Treasury, met the pontiff after his initial grilling by the commission and told reporters before resuming his evidence on Tuesday: "I have the full backing of the Pope".
By videolink from Hotel Quirinale in Rome he told the commission sitting in Sydney that then Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns and his advisor Monsignor Fiscalini had deceived him by not telling him Ridsdale was moved between parishes because of his offending.
Ridsdale was able to continue his offending as he was shifted from one parish to another as "talk" began among parishioners about his interfering with children.
His nephew David Ridsdale, who was sexually abused by his uncle, is among a group of survivors hearing the cardinal's evidence in Rome and told reporters it appeared the Catholic Church was behaving "with lies and deceit" within its own structure.
He said he assumed Victorian Police would be taking up the matter in relation to church officials moving pedophile priests to parishes where they could continue their offending.
Abuse survivor Phil Nagle said the pedophile Ridsdale's offending with children was well known in two Victorian communities including among clergy, parents and police.
"Cardinal Pell is a very astute, a very bright man so how can he say he didn't know?
"He is the one putting the accusations back on his superiors that they lied and deceived."
Mr Ridsdale said Cardinal Pell was "either culpable or an ignorant buffoon".
"I don't believe he's the latter and we have no evidence of the former so we have to wait for the commission to do its job."
Chief Commissioner Peter McClellan warned the cardinal he would be culpable if the commission found he knew of Ridsdale's offending at the time.
Pedophilia 'never mentioned'
Pedophilia was never mentioned as the reason Father Gerald Francis Ridsdale had to be moved from another Victorian parish, Cardinal George Pell says.
Then-Ballarat Catholic bishop Ronald Mulkearns told his advisers at a September 1982 meeting it had become necessary to move Ridsdale from the Mortlake parish.
Cardinal Pell said pedophilia was never mentioned at that meeting or while he was a consulter from 1977 to 1984.
"That was not mentioned by Bishop Mulkearns about Ridsdale during my term as a consulter," he told the child abuse royal commission via audio visual link from Rome on Tuesday.
"There was no reference to sexual misconduct with minors."
Cardinal Pell said he knew nothing about Ridsdale's pedophilia.
"I knew that he was a somewhat difficult person and obviously that he had been shifted around quite a bit. Other priests who were shifted perhaps not as frequently as him but, for one reason or another, moved frequently."
Counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness SC said three of the seven advisers at the September 1982 meeting knew it was necessary to move Ridsdale because of sexual complaints against him and it was implausible that the others were not told why.
Cardinal Pell responded: "It would only be implausible if there was evidence that they had been told in some way or other."
Ms Furness said: "I suggest that it is implausible, given the knowledge of three of those consulters, given the conduct of Ridsdale and the wording of those minutes that the consulters, including you, did not know why it had become necessary for him to be moved?"
Cardinal Pell said that was complete nonsense.
"We can conclude about those who had that knowledge. We cannot conclude about the minds of those who were not privy to that knowledge."
Another adviser, Fr Eric Bryant, has told the commission Bishop Mulkearns told them there was a problem with homosexuality in the diocese but did not tell them the full truth.
Cardinal Pell said he did not recall homosexuality being mentioned but it was possible.
Ms Furness said it was incumbent on Cardinal Pell to ask Bishop Mulkearns why Ridsdale was being moved yet again.
Cardinal Pell said he was happy to take the bishop's word that it was necessary but appropriate for him to be shifted.
- with AFP