Cardinal George Pell is to begin up to four days of testimony from Rome to Australia’s Royal Commission into child sexual abuse on Monday, after a fortnight of intense public criticism.
The cardinal, 74, is to give evidence by video link to Sydney from Rome’s Hotel Quirinale and is expected to be joined there by 15 survivors of abuse at Catholic institutions in his home diocese of Ballarat, after a crowd-funding appeal raised more than A$200,000 (£100,000) to cover their costs. The appeal was helped by a satirical song by British-born Australian comedian Tim Minchin. Proceeds from the online video went to the appeal.
The Chairman of the Royal Commission, Justice Peter McClellan, said the request from some survivors to be present in the room where Cardinal Pell would give evidence in Rome was a reasonable one.
Last weekend, the cardinal was confronted with stories in the Melbourne tabloid the Herald Sun, claiming that Victoria police were investigating allegations of child sexual abuse against him, which Cardinal Pell described as “maliciously timed”. “The purported allegations have never been put to me by police. They are scandalous and utterly false … The leak was designed to cause damage to me as a witness ahead of my evidence in the Royal Commission next week. It undermines the work of the Commission,” he said.
Prominent Jesuit Fr Frank Brennan, Professor of Law at Australian Catholic University, wrote in the Jesuit-sponsored website Eureka Street on 22 February that the police leaks against the cardinal risked putting the Royal Commission’s integrity at risk. “Justice McClellan and his fellow commissioners have a daunting task, according due process and natural justice to a high-profile witness on the other side of the world who has been publicly labelled ‘scum’, ‘buffoon’ and a ‘coward’, being the subject of unauthorised leaks about uninvestigated complaints from a police service which itself is under scrutiny,” Fr Brennan wrote.
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