Pell focus 'taking attention from others'

Cardinal George Pell is a lightning rod for anger at the Catholic Church but others also need to answer for the handling of child abuse, observers say.

The hype surrounding Cardinal George Pell may be allowing others in the Catholic Church to fly under the radar over the handling of child sex abuse, observers say.

Australia's most senior Catholic, described as a "lightning rod" for anger at the church, will this week be questioned about pedophile clergy in Victoria's Ballarat diocese and the Melbourne archdiocese.

Lawyer Dr Judy Courtin said Cardinal Pell's appearance at the child sex abuse royal commission was significant given his seniority but others must also be held accountable.

"They don't want to get lost under the radar," said Dr Courtin, who specialises in institutional sexual abuse.

"Although Pell has to be accountable so do all the others."

Dr Wayne Chamley of clergy victims' advocacy group Broken Rites also believes others in the Catholic Church hierarchy are hiding behind all the attention on the third most powerful person in the Vatican.

"I don't think we've got the best outcome through this part of the royal commission by so much focus on him, because the other bishops are sitting back saying 'oh thank God, they're not asking me questions' and a number of them need to be asked questions," he said.

The commission has heard about decades of widespread child sex abuse by a number of priests, including Australia's worst pedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale, and Christian Brothers.

"Ridsdale sexually abused at minimum 1000 children across the western districts of Victoria," Dr Chamley said.

"It's not believable that a whole lot of people didn't know."

He said the Catholic Education Office in particular had got off scot-free.

"There should have been a procession of former bureaucrats marched in and grilled. And they've all sat back and felt 'phew. isn't it great that George is taking all the flak'."

The church's Truth, Justice and Healing Council CEO Francis Sullivan said he could understand the heightened interest but the pivotal issue was how the church and its leaders dealt with child sex abuse.

"The more we personalise the hearings the more we're off the main game," Mr Sullivan said.

"I think the hype that surrounds it all and the sort of crescendo of public attention runs the risk of losing focus on what the royal commission is seeking to do."

Mr Sullivan said some of the anger at the church has been displaced on to Cardinal Pell.

"He is a controversial figure anyway and therefore becomes a lightning rod when people have grievances about the church.

"That makes it even harder to differentiate emotional responses from the evidence."

Survivor Philip Nagle said former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who moved Ridsdale and other pedophiles between parishes, "confessed some of the sins" to the commission but others in the church also knew what was going on.

"We know they knew because when we went to higher authorities in the church they did nothing," Mr Nagle said.

"They knew. We know they knew. They've just got to be honest and truthful in letting the rest of the world know they knew."

Mr Nagle is among a group of survivors who will be in the Rome hotel conference room with Cardinal Pell when he gives his videolink testimony to the commission in Sydney from Monday (Australian time).

Source AAP

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