Cardinal George Pell, the most senior Catholic cleric of Australia, is consulting legal counsel for what are claimed to be false claims made by Peter Saunders, a member of a Vatican commission for the protection of children. The cardinal’s move came after Saunders said on Australia’s Channel Nine that the senior cleric’s position is now untenable, “because he has now a catalogue of denials, he has a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness, coldheartedness, [he is] almost sociopathic I would go so far as to say.” Moreover, said Saunders, “He is making a mockery of the papal commission, of the pope himself, but most of all, of victims and survivors.”
A statement released by Pell’s legal counsel on June 1 said “The false and misleading claims made against His Eminence are outrageous. The cardinal is left no alternative but to consult with his legal advisers.” Pell has said that he is ready to appear before a royal commission investigating child abuse.
“I believe that [Pell] has at the very least a moral responsibility to fly straight back and to tell the royal commission everything he knows, everything he knows in order to allay the fears many victims and survivors feel, which is that he’s avoiding facing some very, very difficult truths, which is his past behaviour,” Saunders told Channel Nine viewers. “He is a massive, massive thorn in the side of Pope Francis’s papacy if he’s allowed to remain, and I think it’s critical he is moved aside, that he is sent back to Australia and that the Pope takes the strongest action against him.”
Pell currently serves as a close advisor to Pope Francis. He is the inaugural cleric to serve the Pope as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy: a post which gives him authority over the finances and other dealings on the part of the Vatican City State and the Holy See.
Last week, at the royal commission hearing in Australia, a victim of defrocked priest Gerald Ridsdale accused Pell of bribing him in exchange for his silence about abuse. Testimony offered at the royal commission hearing also contended that the churchman was involved in transferring Ridsdale from one parish to another when accusations of sexual abuse arose.
In response to Saunders, a statement released for Pell denied the allegations and claimed that he had cooperated with the commission. “He has never condoned or protected offenders, has never condoned or participated in moving known offenders and did not at any time attempt to bribe David Ridsdale, whose story has varied many times over the years,” the statement said. “The cardinal has repeated many times his deepest sympathy for the victims of abuse and their families. He has made it clear on several occasions he supports the work of the royal commission, where he has already appeared twice, and remains willing to assist in its work.”
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