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Cardinal Pell Renews His Willingness to Give Evidence to the Royal Commission and Meet With Victims

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
18 Feb 2016

Cardinal Pell keen to give evidence to the Royal Commission from Rome

Cardinal Pell says he is keen to give evidence to the Royal Commission from Rome and meet victims of abuse, as he has done on a number of occasions before and after previous hearings.

A statement from the Cardinal's office said he is anxious to present the facts without further delay and he will be prepared to meet with and listen to victims and express his ongoing support.

The statement from  Cardinal Pell, who is the Vatican's Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy, was released after days of frenzied coverage on his upcoming appearance before the Royal Commission in Rome and victims intentions to travel to Rome on the back of funding following the release of a controversial song seeking the Cardinal's return to Sydney.

A number of reports have quoted people demanding Cardinal Pell "must come home to face the music".

In 2012 Cardinal Pell gave evidence at the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse.

He has also appeared before the Royal Commission on two previous occasions, once in person and once via video link.

He has consistently said he would assist the commission and agreed to appear a third time.

However a medical certificate presented to the Commission late last year said long haul travel at this time would not be advisable.

Revisiting the application in early February and upon receiving further medical reports, Justice Peter McClellan said "...it remains preferable, although it could not be said to be essential, that Cardinal Pell give evidence in person in Australia...".

The Commissioner made public the relevant details and "the essence" of the medical report before agreeing to the application to give evidence by video link from Rome.

In the order of fifty other witness have also given evidence via video link.

As Cardinal Pell has done after previous hearings, he is willing to meet with and listen to victims who may travel to Rome.

Reports followed that Cardinal Pell "would not face his victims", was being protected from the Vatican and would now give evidence "from the comfort of the Vatican".

The statement from the office of Cardinal Pell said;" The past few days has seen a great deal of incorrect information relating to Cardinal George Pell and his upcoming Royal Commission appearance.

"Cardinal Pell has always helped victims, listened to them and considered himself their ally. As an archbishop for almost twenty years he has led from the front to put an end to cover ups, to protect vulnerable people and to try to bring justice to victims.

"He has appeared before the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry and twice before the Royal Commission, including for several days in person at the Royal Commission public hearing in Sydney in 2014. The Cardinal is anxious to present the facts without further delays.

"It is ultimately a matter for the Royal Commission to determine the precise arrangements for the provision of evidence by the Cardinal in Rome.  The Cardinal will continue to co-operate with whatever arrangements the Royal Commission determines, so that he can be heard on the days and at the times recently set by the Commissioner.

"As Cardinal Pell has done after earlier hearings, he is prepared to meet with and listen to victims and express his ongoing support."

Meantime a Jesuit priest and human rights lawyer said the controversial song endangers the integrity of the Royal Commission.

Father Frank Brennan warned turning the commission into a "laughing stock" or a "show trial" runs the risk of derailing proceedings.

"I don't think it's altogether helped by having songs about a key witness, calling him scum, and a buffoon, and a coward and that sort of thing before the commission does its task," he told the ABC.

"Because if we turn it into a laughing stock, then the big losers...will be the victims themselves."

Fr Brennan also said he thought victims may be better off sitting alongside their lawyer in Sydney while Cardinal Pell is being questioned.

At this stage the Royal Commission has not released details on where Cardinal Pell could give his evidence from in Rome. The evidence will relate to his time as a young priest in Ballarat and later as an Auxiliary Bishop in Melbourne.

A group of at least 15 survivors from Ballarat have said they will go to Rome. They are expected to be joined by others including carers and supporters.

Melbourne's Archbishop Denis Hart said he was  appalled at the manner in which Cardinal George Pell has been denigrated publicly this week.
 
"Everyone has a right to a fair hearing," he said.

"It must be remembered that the Royal Commission controls this process, that it accepted that the Cardinal could give his evidence in Rome due to his health concerns and that the community should allow without interference the Commission to determine how the evidence is going to be taken consistent with its normal process."