11 December 2015
Christopher Lamb in Rome
Cardinal Pell unable to fly to Australia for sex abuse inquiry because of pre-existing heart condition
Cardinal George Pell will not travel to Australia next week to give evidence to the country’s royal commission into abuse due to ill health.
A statement from his office said that due to a pre-existing heart condition a cardiologist in Rome has said it is not safe for the 74-year-old cardinal, who is Prefect of the Secretariat of the Economy in the Vatican, to make long haul flights.
On Friday the cardinal’s lawyer, Allan Myers, QC, asked the judge leading the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Melbourne for the Australian cardinal to give evidence by video link.
But the chairman of the commission, Justice Peter McClellan, refused the application and instead deferred the cardinal’s appearance - which will be his third before the inquiry - until next February.
He said that given the complexities of the evidence and the technical difficulties which occurred during the cardinal’s previous appearance via video link it was necessary for the evidence to be heard in person.
SEX ABUSE IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH...
Mr Myers said Cardinal Pell, who appeared before the inquiry in person in 2014, “deeply regrets” having to cancel the journey that he had booked his flights and had been due to arrive in Australia on Sunday.
Justice McLellan says he hopes that the cardinal’s health will have improved by February but if not it may “mean further delaying his evidence to a date when he can travel safely to Australia".
Cardinal Pell played an important role in the Church’s handling of clerical sexual abuse. In 1996, when Archbishop of Melbourne, he devised the Melbourne Response, where complaints were assessed by an independent commissioner and victims paid compensation - although the latter was capped.
Later, during his time as Archbishop of Sydney, the lawyers for the archdiocese successfully established what became know as the “Ellis defense” which means dioceses cannot be sued as legal entities for abuse.
There have also been allegations, always strenuously denied by the cardinal, that he was aware of the sexually abusive behaviour of former priest Gerard Ridsdale, whom he shared a presbytery with in the 1970s.
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