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Cardinal says it was 'disastrous coincidence' five paedophile priests preyed on children

The Vatican’s finance chief was based in the town at a time when dozens of children were being abused.

Image: Andrew Medichini/AP

VATICAN FINANCE CHIEF Cardinal George Pell has said it was a “disastrous coincidence” that five paedophile priests preyed on children in the Australian town where he was based, as survivors accused him of lying.

Pell gave evidence for a fourth and final day to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney via videolink from Rome and came under intense questioning from lawyers representing victims of abuse by the clergy.

He has consistently denied any wrongdoing during his time in the town of Ballarat and the city of Melbourne in the state of Victoria, where he grew up and worked, in the 1970s and 80s when paedophile priests abused dozens of children.

Pell, who revealed Pope Francis was being given a summary of each day’s evidence, has claimed at least two archbishops and other people in authority all deceived him by not revealing what was happening during a period of what he called “crimes and cover-ups”.

‘Coincidence’

Asked if he felt the attention on him amounted to a witchhunt, he replied: “I have never expressed such a view, but I must confess the idea has occurred to me.”

He called the congregation of at least five paedophile priests in Ballarat at the same time in the 1970s a “disastrous coincidence”, while admitting a boy complained to him in 1974 about Christian Brother Edward Dowlan.

Pell said the boy “mentioned it casually in conversation” that Dowlan was “misbehaving” with boys and he ran the rumours past a school chaplain, but did nothing more.

“With the experience of 40 years later, certainly I would agree that I should have done more,” he said when told Dowlan, who is in jail, went on to abuse many children.

Another notorious priest based in Ballarat was Gerald Ridsdale, who Pell once shared church accommodation with.

Pell again denied trying to buy the silence of Ridsdale’s nephew David, who was abused by his uncle.

“That certainly did not happen because I would certainly remember it,” said Pell, who accompanied Ridsdale to court as part of his “Christian duty”, when he was convicted of more than 100 charges of sexual abuse against children.

Pell, who denies knowing about Ridsdale’s abuse, also again dismissed allegations “as demonstrably false” that he was once heard saying to a fellow priest: “Haha, I think Gerry’s been rooting boys again.”

‘Lied to’ 

On Tuesday, the head of the Vatican Treasury told the commission the crimes of Ridsdale were “not of much interest” to him at the time, a statement he backpedalled from today.

“I remember messing up this sequence completely. I regret the choice of words. I was very confused, I responded poorly,” he said.

A group of abuse survivors who travelled to Rome to witness the testimony said they did not believe Pell.

“We feel we have been deceived and lied to,” the group said, reading a statement outside the hotel where Pell was giving evidence and where they hope to hold a meeting with him.

“The royal commission at some stage in the future will give a recommendation on the evidence given by George. We feel George has not been honest nor truthful. George will have to live with this chosen course.”

Pell rebuked allegations he was lying during his testimony.

“I’d say that is completely untrue and unjustified by any evidence,” he told the commission, adding that some of the stories from survivors were harrowing.

“One of the other things I regret as a Catholic priest is the damage that these crimes do to the faith of the survivors, of the victims and their friends and family and generally throughout society. I lament that,” he said.

Australia ordered the Royal Commission in 2012 after a decade of growing pressure to investigate allegations of widespread paedophilia.

It has spoken to almost 5,000 survivors and heard claims of abuse involving churches, orphanages, community and youth groups and schools.

- © AFP 2016.

Read: Cork man ejected from priesthood over abuse claims ‘kept celebrating Mass at home’>

Pope Francis: ‘If you’re unstable, see a doctor – don’t become a priest’>

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