Australia abuse inquiry: Cardinal Pell claims 'full backing' of the Pope

Protests in Australia as Cardinal Pell gives evidence to the Royal Commission on Institutional Child Sexual Abuse via video link from RomeReuters

Australian Archbishop Cardinal George Pell has claimed he has the "full backing" of the Pope as his evidence to the Royal Commission on Institutional Child Sexual Abuse continued into its second day.

The former Archbishop of Syndey, who is 74 and who now heads the Vatican treasury, had a meeting with Pope Francis after his first day of testifying via video link from Rome. Both days of evidence were watched by abuse survivors who travelled to Rome from Australia. 

With his evidence accompanied by jeers from the public gallery, Pell said Catholic clergy operate within a framework of Christian moral teaching where "discussion of the secret faults of others is not encouraged".

He claimed that he had been deceived by Bishop Ronald Mulkearns, who he was then working for, as to why an abuser was moved from parish to parish.

He said Mulkearns and another priest, Leo Fiscalini, knew about allegations against paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale but they failed to mention the allegations to Pell.

"It probably would be possible to imagine a greater deception, but it's a gross deception," Cardinal Pell told the Sydney inquiry, according to ABC.

Speculating on Mulkearns' motives, he continued: "He might have wanted to protect us from his wrong doing. He might have feared that, if he told us the truth, that people like myself would have said: 'Well, look, is that correct? I am not sure we should be going in that direction at all,'"  AP and the Telegraph reported.

On the individuals involved, the cardinal admitted he had heard "gossip" about child abuser John Day but said that if a priest denied abuse, he was strongly inclined to accept it. He said he could not recall hearing of Day's "love of young boys" or that he had taken children on car trips and abused them. He did become aware of the allegations about Day, after a newspaper report appeared in 1972.

About the abuse of children at schools in Ballarat East, when he was episcopal vicar for education, Pell admitted he had been told that Christian Brother Gerald Fitzgerald was kissing children but shared the "general conviction" that it was "harmless enough". He had not heard aboout Christian Brother Stephen Farrell exposing himself to children. Nor had he heard the term "bum buddies", or that Christian Brother Ted Dowlan had a reputation for putting his hands down boys' pants.

About abuser Gerald Ridsdale, Pell had heard the priest took boys overnight camping and regarded this as unusual "but not improper".

Ridsdale's nephew David Ridsdale, who was raped by the priest, told reporters outside the hotel in Rome from where Pell gave his evidence that he did not believe the cardinal could have remained unaware of the allegations of paedophilia. "It beggars belief that he could have said he wasn't interested in hearing about the crimes of my uncle," he said.