Vatican high-flyer denies trying to bribe abuse victim

Vatican high-flyer denies trying to bribe abuse victim
St Peter's basilica in the Vatican.

SYDNEY - Australia's former top Catholic cleric, now Pope Francis' finance chief, on Thursday denied trying to bribe a victim of a paedophile priest to keep him quiet.

Cardinal George Pell spoke out as abuse survivors demanded he return to Australia to give evidence to a royal commission on the allegations.

David Ridsdale, who was abused from age 11 by his priest uncle Gerald Ridsdale, a notorious paedophile now in jail, told the commission on Wednesday that he confided in Pell, a family friend, about the sex assaults in 1993.

He alleged that Pell, who was appointed by Pope Francis in February 2014 to make the Vatican's finances more transparent, went on to ask what it would cost to buy his silence.

The cardinal was also accused of helping to move the disgraced priest between parishes.

In a statement, Pell said he had been following the proceedings this week and was "horrified once again by survivors' accounts of the abuse they have suffered".

"Over the last 24 hours I have been accused of being complicit in the moving of a known paedophile, of ignoring a victim's complaint, and of bribery," he added.

"These matters again require an immediate response and it is important to correct the record particularly given the false and misleading headlines."

He said that "at no time did I attempt to bribe David Ridsdale or his family or offer any financial inducements for him to be silent".

'Callous'

Pell, who is not accused of any sexual abuse, added that at the time of the discussion the police were already aware of allegations against Gerald Ridsdale and were investigating.

"Then, and now, I supported these police investigations. I have previously made a sworn denial of these allegations and I reiterate that denial," he said.

"Secondly, I never moved Ridsdale out of Mortlake Parish. I never moved him anywhere. I would never have condoned or participated in a decision to transfer Ridsdale in the knowledge that he had abused children."

Pell gave evidence in March 2014 to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which was called after a decade of pressure to investigate wide-ranging allegations of paedophilia in Australia.

The commission has heard harrowing allegations of child abuse involving places of worship, orphanages, community groups and schools.

Nicky Davis, leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said Pell must again appear before the commission to answer claims against him.

"It is vastly inappropriate to respond to sworn evidence by courageous survivors with a media statement that callously dismisses their experience," she told reporters.

"If Cardinal Pell is at all genuine in his claims to recognise the seriousness of the crime of sexual violation of defenceless children, he would voluntarily return to Australia to give evidence under oath to the royal commission."

Pell said he was committed to complete co-operation with the commission and would "address in full all matters it wishes to raise in any statement requested from me before I make any further comment".

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