Tony Abbott has declined to say whether Cardinal George Pell should return to Australia from the Vatican to address claims made against him this week at the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.
The prime minister said on Thursday morning that it was up to the royal commission and the cardinal to determine the best way to proceed, but his understanding was Pell had agreed to front the commission once again.
The royal commission, sitting in Ballarat, has heard allegations that Pell had been complicit in the moving of a known paedophile, ignored a victim’s complaint, and offered a bribe.
“I am committed to complete cooperation with the royal commission,” the statement from Pell said.
“I will address in full all matters it wishes to raise in any statement requested from me before I make any further comment. I have the deepest sympathy for the victims of abuse, their families and the community of Ballarat for what they have suffered. Once again, I will answer allegations and criticisms of my behaviour openly and honestly.”
The prime minister, who is close to the Catholic cardinal, was asked whether Pell had a moral obligation to return to Australia given the gravity of the allegations levelled against him.
Tony Abbott told reporters on Thursday, “Look, these are properly matters for the royal commission, properly matters for the royal commission and for him.”
The prime minister said it was his understanding that Pell in his written statement had agreed to reappear, but it was “ultimately a matter for him” whether the cardinal returned to Australia.
“My understanding is his written statement has dealt with those issues,” Abbott said.
David Ridsdale, the nephew of Australia’s worst paedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, told the royal commission this week that he told Pell in 1993 about abuse he suffered at the hands of his uncle.
David Ridsdale told the commission that Pell, a family friend, asked him: “I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet.”
Ridsdale said Pell had started talking about Ridsdale’s growing family and said that he may soon have to buy a car or house.
“I have never stated that Pell offered me anything specific or tangible in our conversation, only that his attempts to direct the conversation down a particular path made me extremely suspicious of his motivations and what he was insinuating,” Ridsdale said.
Pell in his statement said he was “extremely sympathetic” to David Risdale, and he continued to regret “the misunderstanding between us.”
“At no time did I attempt to bribe David Ridsdale or his family or offer any financial inducements for him to be silent,” Pell said.
“At the time of our discussion the police were already aware of allegations against Gerald Ridsdale and were investigating. Then, and now, I supported these police investigations. I have previously made a sworn denial of these allegations and I reiterate that denial.”
With Australian Associated Press