AUSTRALIA’S most senior Catholic has made a request to give evidence to a child abuse royal commission via video link from Rome.
A lawyer representing Cardinal Pell, Allan Myers, made an application for Cardinal Pell to give evidence at Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Ballarat this morning via video link from Rome rather than appear in person, citing health reasons.
Mr Myers said Cardinal Pell wanted to give evidence as soon as possible and he would make himself available to give video evidence at the impending hearing on how he responded to child abuse allegations as a priest in Ballarat and as the Archbishop of Melbourne.
Cardinal Pell had been set to appear in person at the hearing to be held in Ballarat at the end of this month.
“It is the Cardinal’s view that it is very important he give evidence soon as he can while the evidence of other members of clergy is still fresh,” Mr Myers said. “He wants to avoid the appearance that he is unwillingly to give evidence.”
Justice McClellan said the medical opinion tendered did not say it was impossible for Cardinal Pell to travel to Australia.
“That doesn't preclude his travel, does it?” Justice McClellan asked. “The doctor opines that it would be difficult for him to undertake a flight. It doesn't mean he can't come.”
Concerns were raised by lawyers representing clergy abuse victims including Ballarat survivors Andrew Collins, Stephen Woods, Timothy Green and Peter Blenkiron that evidence of Cardinal Pell’s medical condition, including a medical report detailing the particulars of the condition, had not been tendered to the commission.
Chairman of the Royal Commission Justice Peter McClellan called for an adjournment while the documents were tendered by the commission and given to lawyers.
However, counsel for Graeme Sleeman and other victims, Paul O’Dwyer, said after reading the proposition submitted by Cardinal Pell’s lawyers he felt the force in suppressing the medical report was “non-existent.”
“They are very common garden problems for a man of the Cardinal’s age,” he said. “There is nothing in this, in our respectful submission, that requires a suppression order.We say it would be unfair to all those who have been looking forward to,and demand attendance of, Cardinal Pell to not know the reasons. There is nothing in this report, we say, requires or supports necessity for a suppression order. We say the report should be made public.”
Earlier this week, doubts were raised over whether Cardinal Pell would return to Australia for the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse hearing beginning on February 22 after he failed to travel to the United States last week for a speaking engagement.
Cardinal Pell, who is based in Rome, previously cancelled a planned trip to Melbourne in December to give evidence to the commission due to a "worsening" heart condition.
“There is a need to bring the matter to an end, in everybody’s interest,” Justice McClellan said.
The hearing continues.