Abuse allegations "not of much interest" at the time, cardinal says

Allegations of sexual abuse against a Melbourne priest were not a top priority when they surfaced in the 1980s, Australian cardinal and senior Vatican official George Pell told an inquiry on Tuesday.

Pell, who was working as a church official in the area at the time, was appearing by video link for the second day before the Royal Commission investigating widespread abuse in Australia's institutions over past decades.

"It's a sad story and it wasn't of much interest to me," Pell said regarding the paedophile crimes of former priest Gerald Ridsdale, jailed since 1993 on more than 100 counts of assault and abuse of children.

"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 evil that Ridsdale had perpetrated."

"I knew nothing about his paedophilia, I knew he was a somewhat difficult person and I knew, obviously, that he had been shifted around quite a bit," Pell said.

He blamed his senior bishop at the time, Ronald Mulkearns, who knew about Ridsdale's crimes but moved him from one parish to another for more than a decade.

Pell said Mulkearns' silence was "a gross deception," and his actions "reprehensible" and "inexplicable."

Mulkearns, 85, is now in a nursing home with terminal cancer. In February, he told the same commission of his "profound sorrow" at his mishandling of Ridsdale's case.

Ridsdale's nephew and one of his victims, David Ridsdale, said Pell had thrown "a whole bunch of people under a bus" by shifting the blame to Mulkearns, local media reported. 

"It beggars belief," he was quoted as saying by broadcaster ABC. "We are speaking of moral leaders ... and for them to have no interest in such behaviour seems remarkable."

David and other survivors from the Ballarat diocese in Melbourne, where the majority of the abuse took place, travelled to attend the testimony in Rome.

Pell, 74, is the pope's troubleshooter for financial matters. 

His questioning is set to continue for two more days. His doctors have said he is too unwell to travel.

Last update: Tue, 01/03/2016 - 11:24
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