Pell welcomes chance to separate fact from fiction over child sex abuse

FULL COVERAGE

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CARDINAL George Pell yesterday welcomed a national royal commisison into child sexual abuse, calling it a chance to deal with the issue and “to separate fact from fiction”. 

The Ballarat-born Catholic cleric faced journalists in Sydney, telling a packed press conference that media reports had included “significant exaggeration” of the issue. 

Answering all questions put to him, Cardinal Pell spoke on a wide range of issues, including his time in the same parish house as convicted paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale and his regret for supporting Fr Ridsdale during a 1993 trial. 

Cardinal Pell said he expected to be called to give evidence against claims he had participated in any cover-up of abuse by priests and would co-operate fully with the royal commission.

The key topics, in Cardinal Pell's own words

On the royal commission 

We think it’s an opportunity to help the victims. It’s an opportunity to clear the air, to separate fact from fiction.

We are not interested in denying the extent of misdoing in the Catholic Church. We object to it being exaggerated.

We acknowledge, with shame, the extent of the problem and I want to assure you that we have been serious in attempting to eradicate it and deal with it ...

On media reporting of abuse

To what extent are wounds simply opened by the re-running of events which have been reported not only once, but many times previously?

On moving offending priests 

It is completely prohibited to shift priests who have been charged, to shift them around.

If and where that has been done, that is against the protocols.

On Catholic Church processes 

These are adequate procedures. They’ve been out for months.

I’m interested in asking whether police have sufficient resources to deal with the day-to-day problems, as well as historical.

On supporting convicted priest Father Gerald Ridsdale by walking him to court in 1993

In retrospect I didn’t realise then what a wrong impression that would give to the victims.

On what information priests can give to police following confessions of child sexual abuse

If that is done outside the confessional (it can be passed on) but the Seal of Confession is inviolable.

If the priest knows beforehand about such a situation, the priest should refuse to hear the confession.

On public opinion

We have been unable to convince public opinion that basically for the last 20 years, whatever the imperfections, we’ve been serious about this.

Because there’s a press campaign focused largely on us, it does not mean that we are largely the principal culprit.

On instances of abuse

I would welcome the release of the statistics which are available showing the number of cases that the police are dealing with, how many of them might involve Catholic teachers, priests or others, how many of these incidents are historical incidents, how many are happening today.

I’m interested in asking whether police have sufficient resources to deal with the day-to-day problems, as well as historical.

Catholic protocols on child sex abuse

 - Archdiocese seeks to follow NSW law and canon law when dealing with sexual abuse claims.

 - Allegations of sexual abuse are reported to the police.

 - Church inquiries are put on hold once police investigations start.

 - Accused priests and church workers are not "tipped off" about police investigations.

 - Silence isn't demanded from victims in return for financial assistance.

 - Church entities can be sued.

 - Priests who have committed crimes against children or pose a risk to them are permanently     removed from public ministry, including where they have not been convicted or arrested.

(Source: Sexual Abuse: The Response of the Archdiocese of Sydney)

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