Child sexual abuse survivors in Rome to hear Cardinal George Pell’s testimony to a royal commission have welcomed his criticism of a former bishop and description of the church’s handling of a pedophile priest as a “catastrophe”.
But Ballarat survivors group leader David Ridsdale told reporters after the cardinal’s first session of evidence late on Sunday (Rome time) it’s still early days and survivors wanted action not just words.
He also said when the cardinal walked in he did not look at the survivors seated at the front of the conference room in the Quirinale Hotel.
“I nodded, got no recognition, nothing,” Ridsdale said.
Pell is making his third appearance before the child sexual abuse royal commission and appearing by videolink from Rome after he was deemed too ill to return to Australia to give testimony.
He was being questioned about what he knew about pedophile priest activity in Ballarat and Melbourne when he served in those areas some decades ago.
During his testimony Pell said there was a case for a judicial tribunal to consider how former Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns handled clergy accused of child sexual abuse.
He also said the alleged destruction of documents by Mulkearns was “unacceptable”.
Mulkearns – who held his position in Ballarat from 1971 to 1997 – is now aged 85 and is dying of cancer.
Ridsdale remarked upon Pell’s criticism of Mulkearns and the cardinal’s description of the handling of that case of Australia’s worst pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale as a “catastrophe” for both victims and the church.
David Ridsdale, a victim and nephew of the now dead priest, said it was good to hear Pell use the word “catastrophe”.
“But … we’ve always said words are one thing, actions are another,” he added.
“We’d like to hear more about assistance to survivors, not just his sympathy for survivors but actions he’s going to provide survivors.”
The survivors’ group is calling for a Church Related Injuries (CRI) card for abuse survivors who had suffered injury or trauma after being abused by priests.
The survivors said it would be better for the church to fund such a scheme than spend millions of dollars on the legal defence of pedophile priests.
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