A Catholic priest has denied fabricating aspects of his testimony to a child sex abuse royal commission in an attempt to “save” Cardinal George Pell.
Mentone parish priest Rev John Walshe has told the commission Cardinal Pell looked “shocked and crestfallen” after speaking to sex abuse victim David Ridsdale, who alleges Cardinal Pell asked what it would take to keep him quiet during a 1993 telephone conversation.
Counsel assisting the commission Angus Stewart SC suggested Fr Walshe was being untruthful in evidence and had “no recollection” of the phone call occurring or Cardinal Pell’s demeanour following it.
"Father I put to you that you fabricated these aspects of your statement to save your good friend Cardinal Pell, isn't that right?"
"I absolutely deny that," Fr Walshe responded.
Mr Stewart pressed him further: "You fabricated these parts of your statement to assist your good friend George Pell, isn't that right?"
“No,” Fr Walshe said.
Mr Stewart said documents tendered to the commission revealed discrepancies between Fr Walshe’s initial recollections of the moments following the phone conversation when compared to the final statement he submitted to the inquiry. The commission heard Fr Walshe initially said he was uncertain if he was in the house with Cardinal Pell when the call was made and initially thought it was in the evening rather than the morning.
“As I’ve explained,” Fr Walshe said. “I came to further realisation after I sat and thought carefully about it.”
The commission heard Fr Walshe had no recollection of the date of the phone call until he read over Mr Ridsdale's statement.Email exchanges between Fr Walshe and Cardinal Pell’s lawyers also showed he asked a solicitor to confirm with the Senior Vatican that he was home on the date in question and not away on holidays.
Fr Walshe also said he could not remember if a housekeeper had passed the phone call to Bishop Pell as he testified in his statement.
"Your actual memory of these events is vague at best, isn't it Father?" Mr Stewart said.
Fr Walshe said while it was not “absolutely clear to him” the key points were and stood by his statement that Cardinal Pell said Mr Ridsdale was “a mess.” Cardinal Pell has repeatedly denied ever trying to bribe Mr Ridsdale. The commission was also told the Vatican has now laicised convicted paedophile Paul David Ryan, 67, from the priesthood almost a decade the Ballarat diocese requested he was removed. Cardinal Pell's testimony was deferred until February after the inquiry accepted medical evidence he was too unwell to travel from Rome for the hearing.