DOCUMENTATION: by Archbishop George PellNews Weekly
Archbishop George Pell rebuts '60 Minutes' allegations
, June 15, 2002
Allegations that Dr George Pell, when Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, covered up sex abuse cases, or prevented the victims from obtaining a just settlement of their claims, have been firmly rebutted by the Archbishop following a TV program in which 60 Minutes presenter, Richard Carleton, interviewed victims of clerical sexual abuse, then confronted Dr. Pell with their allegations.
Archbishop Pell, who was appointed Archbishop of Sydney last year, said, "Last Sunday night's 60 Minutes
program once again poignantly highlighted the long term damage involved in child sexual abuse. No one watching could fail to be moved by the sufferings of the victims and the evil of the perpetrators.
"I firmly stand by what I said in my sworn statutory declaration and statement of last Thursday - namely that I did not attempt to silence any victim or buy them off. I repeat here that the allegations that I attempted to silence anyone are totally unfounded and untrue."Slanted story
The Archbishop added that 60 Minutes
"deliberately set out to ignore all of the positive aspects of the Melbourne program which I introduced in 1996 to combat sexual abuse and to help the abuse victims personally and financially."
Describing the 60 Minutes
program as an "ambush", he said, "The basis of the accusations against the Church of Melbourne, and me personally, is that ex-gratia compensation payments from the Independent Compensation Panel are 'hush money'. They are nothing of the sort. Hush money was never paid."
He said that the rationale and procedures of the Compensation Panel were published in October 1996, had always been available for examination, and had received little or no sustained criticism.
"There are four members. Mr Chernov QC was the first chairman (now a judge of the Victorian Supreme Court), Mr Habsberger QC his successor was also appointed to the Victorian Supreme Court. Ms Sue Crennan QC is the present Chair.
"The panel was designed to eliminate legal costs for the victims (lawyers were not necessary and rarely used), and once the Independent Commissioners' determination on the facts was given, the Church did not oppose compensation to the victim.
"It remains a good fair system and is comparable with Australian statutory criminal injuries compensation schemes."
Referring to allegations made by David Ridsdale, a young man who had been sexually abused by his uncle, a priest, in the 1970s, Archbishop Pell said, "David Ridsdale alleges that he phoned me in January 1993 to tell me of abuse by his uncle. I spoke with him but have no record of exactly when the conversation took place.
"He accuses me of saying, 'What will it take to keep you quiet?' I deny emphatically using any such words or any words to that effect.
"People rarely swear at bishops and priests, whatever they might say about us. I would remember if anyone, especially a young friend I was trying to help, swore at me ... David never swore at me.
"David said he phoned me in January 1993 and then went to the police. I took the call at Mentone. Until late January 1993 I was on holiday at Torquay as was my practice for nearly thirty years.
"In the Sun Herald
on Sunday it was alleged that David Ridsdale spoke to the police in August 1992. This date is also found in a couple of magazines.
"He has never alleged that he spoke to me in August 1992. That he went to the police for the first time straight after he spoke to me cannot be reconciled with his other statements.
"In the tape shown to me (but which did not go to air) it was alleged I offered David a house and car. As an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne I had no capacity to provide such things. This claim is untrue.
"David's claims are inconsistent, discredited and wrong," the Archbishop said.
The other major allegation involved a tragic case of two young girls abused by another priest.
Dr Pell said, "The perpetrator O'Donnell was already in gaol when I met the parents. There had been wide publicity.
"This meeting took place as part of a gathering at a Melbourne parish around 1997 to apologise and dialogue with victims and their families. There was no secret about the meeting. I attended another such meeting at the same parish.
"One girl was offered ex-gratia compensation after her case had been investigated by the Independent Commissioner. The Melbourne counselling agency has authorised significant payments for the medical conditions of one of the girls. These have been accepted.
"In the letter of offer there is no reference to any requirement of secrecy and in the standard release there is no such reference or requirement also.
"A person to whom an offer is made may choose to reject the compensation offer.
"In that event they are free to take proceedings to court. If that occurs, it is the intention of the compensation scheme that the rights of both the applicant and the Archdiocese remain unaffected by the previous discussions. Hence the need for confidentiality. At no stage, even during these confidential discussions, are people prevented from speaking about the abuse they suffered."Transparent
Archbishop Pell pointed out that people have always been free to use this system or the courts. The invitation to use the courts is no attempt to hush people, because a trial inevitably brings wide publicity.
Responding to allegations that he should have prevented sex abuse conducted by priests and brothers in Ballarat, where he served as a priest in the 1970s, Archbishop Pell said he was also Episcopal Vicar of Education, where his main task was to chair the diocesan education board, an advisory body to the Bishop on policy, and Principal of Aquinas Campus of the Institute of Catholic Education in Ballarat.
"This was more than a full-time job. I was in Melbourne on one or two days a week. I had no direct role in the appointment or supervision of teachers."
The Archbishop pointed out that contrary to the implications of the 60 Minutes program, he had not had a close association with Fr Gerard Ridsdale.
"I always strive to work amicably with all my brother priests. This included Gerald Ridsdale. We were never close friends and overlapped at St Alipius for about a year.
"I accompanied him in mid-year 1993 to the Magistrates' Court. My sympathy was always with the victims and when I explained to his lawyer that I would insist on saying that Ridsdale had done great damage to his victims, the Church and himself, he declined to call me as a witness and asked me to accompany Ridsdale to court.
"I had little idea of the full extent and gravity of his crimes.
"I did so in priestly solidarity. This was a mistake as it misled people about my basic sympathies for the victims, borne out by all my subsequent work to root out this evil."