Days before a Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will decide whether terminally ill former Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns is well enough to give evidence, he was reportedly seen walking around the grounds of a nursing home unassisted.
On Friday the inquiry heard Bishop Mulkearns was extremely frail, had colon cancer, was in chronic pain and was terminally ill with a life expectancy of months.
Recent photos believed to be of Bishop Mulkearns, show him walking around the gardens of a nursing home using a walking frame and without any medical assistance.
Other photos show him sitting and reading a book outside believed to be over a period of about two hours.
David Grace QC, acting for the bishop told the inquiry on Friday Bishop Mulkearns wished to give evidence but medical advice recommended he did not attend court in person.
He suggested a video link instead be set up from his nursing home or another appropriate location.
The hearing heard Bishop Mulkearns was concerned that his memory for detail was very poor and he feared he may unintentionally mislead the inquiry.
Medical advice recommended Bishop Mulkearns only answer questions for one and a half hours before resting for a number of days.
Bishop Mulkearns has long been regarded as the keeper of secrets.
Bishop Mulkearns was the Ballarat diocese bishop between 1971 and 1997, presided over decisions to move priests, including disgraced paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, between parishes in the diocese despite mounting child sexual abuse allegations against them.
Bishop Mulkearns was due to attend the inquiry last December, but he was excused from testifying as he is currently receiving palliative care.
However, the December inquiry heard Bishop Mulkearns struggled to sleep at night due his role in concealing the child sex crimes of priests spanning decades,
Retired Ballarat diocese priest John McKinnon, who still visits the terminally ill bishop, told the inquiry last year Bishop Mulkearns was “profoundly sorry” for what “he had done” or failed to do.
The commission will decide on the fate of testimonies given by Bishop Mulkearns and Cardinal George Pell at a directions hearing on Monday afternoon.
Cardinal Pell’s lawyers applied for the 74-year-old to be able to give evidence by audio visual link at hearings of the inquiry dealing with abuse in Ballarat at a directions hearing on Friday. A medical report was handed up to support the application that a flight to Australia from Rome where the senior Catholic lives at the Vatican could pose a serious risk to his health.