Pell answers frustrate abuse survivors

Lloyd Jones, AAP Europe Correspondent
AAP

Australian child sex abuse survivors danced "as if they won the Oscar" in a Rome hotel when a movie about exposing pedophile priests won best film at the Academy Awards.

But the survivors' group who travelled to Rome to hear Cardinal George Pell give evidence by videolink to the child abuse royal commission sitting in Sydney were brought back down to earth on Tuesday by his testimony of denial and sheeting home blame to others.

The previous day they had detected a conciliatory tone in the cleric's evidence, noting he had backed off blanket denials that he knew nothing of pedophile priests offending in the Ballarat diocese and Melbourne when he served there in the 1970s and 1980s.

After that day of evidence, members of the survivors' group left the plush Quirinale Hotel where the cardinal's evidence is being heard and went on to watch the Oscars in their hotel and be thrilled when best film was won by Spotlight.

The film is based on the true story of how journalists at The Boston Globe exposed a sexual abuse cover-up by the Catholic Church.

"We danced as if we'd won the Oscar and there were a lot of tears. The timing couldn't have been better, it's given a lot of hope," said survivors' group spokesman David Ridsdale, who was sexually abused by his uncle Gerald Ridsdale, Australia's worst pedophile priest.

On Monday evening the group was back in the chandeliered Quirinale Hotel conference room for more of Cardinal Pell's evidence.

Under increasingly terse questioning by counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness and Chief Commissioner Peter McClellan, the cardinal consistently denied knowing anything of Ridsdale's offending in Ballarat.

Cardinal Pell had in the early 1980s been on a committee of "consultors" to then Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns, charged with advising on the transfer of priests between parishes.

But he said when the case of Ridsdale came up he was the victim of a "gross deception" by Bishop Mulkearns, maintaining that the bishop and his advisor Monsignor Fiscalini never told him the real reason Ridsdale had to be moved - his sexual offending.

Ridsdale was able to continue his offending as he was shifted from one parish to another as "talk" began among parishioners about his interfering with children.

Under tough questioning, Cardinal Pell agreed that Bishop Mulkearns, who is dying of cancer, was culpable for his actions in moving known pedophiles onto other parishes.

Commission chief McClellan warned Cardinal Pell that if the commission found that he had known about active pedophile priests at the time he was a consultor in Ballarat, then he too would be deemed culpable.

Survivor Phil Nagle said Ridsdale's offending with children was well known in two Victorian communities including among clergy, parents and police.

"Cardinal Pell is a very astute, very bright man so how can he say he didn't know?

"He is the one putting the accusations back on his superiors that they lied and deceived."

Cardinal Pell is due to give three to four days of evidence and has been arriving at the hotel and leaving amid tight security and failed ploys to avoid waiting media.

Carbinieri officers have been posted outside the Quirinale to provide security for the Pell hearing, with one carrying a sub-machine gun.

On his way into the Quirinale on Monday night Cardinal Pell responded to a question about his meeting with Pope Francis earlier that day by saying: "I have the full backing of the Pope."