Abuse responsibility not equal: Pell

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In compelling evidence to the child abuse royal commission, George Pell has explained how responsibility for protecting children is shared in the church.

Cardinal George Pell says he had 'no interest' in Gerald Francis Ridsdale's offending in the mid-1970s and was not told the priest was being moved because he was a pedophile

Cardinal Pell, who was then a Ballarat priest, says he did not know that Ridsdale's offending was common knowledge in the Victorian parish of Inglewood in 1975 and did not know about the allegations.

"It's a sad story and it wasn't of much interest to me," he told the child abuse royal commission from Rome, drawing gasps from some observers in the room.

"The suffering, of course, was real and I very much regret that, but I had no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evils that Ridsdale had perpetrated.

He was asked if it was not necessary to avoid repeat offences to fully understand the circumstances of cases like Ridsdale.

The cardinal said that everyone in the church approached the task differently according to their level of responsibility.

Ms Furness asked him if he was saying it was not the case that if a parish priest heard of events dangerous to children happening in a neighbouring parish or a distant parish he had no responsibility to the children who were in danger.

Cardinal Pell: "Well, very obviously I said nothing of the sort. I said that a person from a neighbouring parish or distant parish has less responsibility for the care of children in those distant parishes than he does in his own."

He told commission chair Justice Peter McClellan that he agreed that every member of the church had a responsibility to do what they could to protect children.

He also agreed that office bearers had a greater responsibility.

Cardinal Pell also said that Bishop Ronald Mulkearns lied to him about Ridsdale.

Former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns knew about complaints against Ridsdale when he moved him between parishes but Cardinal Pell said he was not told about it when he was an adviser to the bishop from 1977.

Cardinal Pell said the bishop and senior cleric Monsignor Leo Fiscalini deceived him and other advisers at meetings which discussed moving Ridsdale.

The commission has heard Ridsdale's offending was common knowledge in at least two parishes but Cardinal Pell maintained he did not know.

Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said Cardinal Pell would be held to be culpable if he, like Bishop Mulkearns, did know about the offending.

Cardinal Pell said that was correct.

"It is very clear of course that the decision is one of the bishop's, that the consultors only have an advisory capacity and of course all of us have to respect the evidence," Cardinal Pell said.

SBS Europe Correspondent Brett Mason reports from Rome:

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Ridsdale was the parish priest at Apollo Bay in 1974 to 1975 but put in for a transfer in February 1975 after a man told him there was pub talk about him and children.

He went to Inglewood, where he left overnight in 1975 after a policeman complained about him interfering with his son.

Cardinal Pell said moving Ridsdale was unacceptable and at the time the view would have been that he should have been at least sent for counselling as a minimum step if a bishop knew it was a first offence.

"These were different times with different sets of predispositions," Cardinal Pell said.

"But whatever the predispositions, it's unsatisfactory.

"In those times if it was a first offence they would have thought that there was more justification in them being sent away for counselling and for help with the possibility of return.

Cardinal Pell is giving evidence via video link from Rome because he's too ill to fly to Australia. He has appeared before the commission on two previous occasions in Australia.

The cardinal told waiting media earlier in the day that he had "the full backing of the Pope" after a weekly meeting with him earlier in the day.

On the first day of his testimony, he said he was unaware of sexual abuse and cover-ups across the Ballarat diocese when he was there from 1973 to 1984.

However, he admitted to hearing "fleeting references", "talk", "gossip" and unspecified information aboutuntoward behaviour by some clergy.

He told the commission that he had heard rumours of pedophile priests and suspected a Christian Brother of "pedophilic activity" in the 1970s but insists he had no authority to act.

Cardinal Pell also admitted he heard gossip in the early 1970s about Mildura parish priest Monsignor John Day being accused of pedophile activity.

He described Mulkearns' handling of Ridsdale as a catastrophe for victims and the church and admitted the church had made enormous mistakes.

Source AAP

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