ARCHBISHOP George Pell of Sydney has hit back at allegations on 60 Minutes on June 2 that he tried to buy the silence of any victim of clerical child abuse.
Archbishop Pell called a media conference last Monday at which he emphatically denied the Channel 9 program’s allegations that he offered ‘hush money’ to attempt to cover up sexual abuse while he was Auxiliary Bishop of Melbourne.
‘The allegations that I attempted to silence anyone are totally untrue,’ he said last Monday.
He also accused 60 Minutes of an ‘ambush’ and being deliberately misleading when they approached him for an interview.
Archbishop Pell responded to the program’s allegations relating to Gerald Ridsdale, a defrocked priest of Ballarat diocese who was convicted and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in 1994 after pleading guilty to 46 charges of sexual assault against children.
While still an assistant priest, Archbishop Pell had shared a house with Fr Ridsdale at Ballarat East for about 12 months in 1973, but says he was unaware at the time of Fr Ridsdale’s crimes.
The archbishop said he recalled receiving a phone call from Gerald Ridsdale’s nephew, David Ridsdale, who says he was abused by his uncle, but Archbishop Pell said he had no record of the exact date this took place.
Earlier, in a May 30 statement and accompanying statutory declaration that pre-empted the 60 Minutes program, Archbishop Pell said: ‘Although I do not recall the precise date of the call, I recall that it was while I was an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne and that it was around the time of the police action against Gerald Ridsdale.
To the best of my recollection the call took place early in 1993.
‘When I received the call I was aware that allegations of criminal conduct were being made against Ridsdale … I had no reason to believe that Ridsdale was innocent of the allegations.
‘Indeed when he pleaded guilty in … mid-1993 I was asked by his lawyers to give evidence on his behalf. I indicated that while I would have been prepared to give evidence, and that while I was aware of some good works Ridsdale had performed as a priest, my sympathies lay with his victims. I considered his crimes reprehensible.
‘I recall that when David Ridsdale rang me, he told me that he had been abused by his uncle. However there was no basis upon which I could have provided him with any significant financial assistance. I did not provide or offer to provide David or his family any financial assistance.
‘In the course of my interview with 60 Minutes it was alleged that I said to David words to the effect ‘What will you take to keep quiet?’ I emphatically and totally deny having said these words or words to that effect.
‘The allegation that I attempted to silence a victim or to cover up allegations is unfounded and untrue and is anathema to me.’
‘David’s claims are inconsistent, discredited and wrong.’
Archbishop Pell was also accused on 60 Minutes of buying the silence of a family by offering them $50,000 in exchange for an agreement not to sue over claims that the couple’s two daughters were sexually abused by a priest.
On June 3 Archbishop Pell corrected an ‘unclear and imprecise impression’ created on the program in relation to compensation to victims of sexual abuse under Melbourne archdiocese’s Independent Compensation Panel.
‘When a person accepts compensation from Melbourne archdiocese no confidentiality applies. To suggest this is hush money is absurd.