Sex abuse survivors send letter to Pope Francis after 'giving up' on Pell

Natasha Christian

George Pell has entered his last day in the witness stand at the sex abuse royal commission under pressure after claiming senior Catholic Church and school figures lied to him about allegations against priests and brothers.

A group of survivors are watching the cardinal, who was 'too ill' to return to Australia for questioning.

He will face questioning from sex abuse victims' lawyers on his fourth day on the stand in Rome on Thursday.

Survivors of sexual abuse who have travelled to Rome to watch Cardinal Pell give his evidence say they've given up on reaching any satisfaction from his evidence and now want to speak to the Pope.

Survivor David Ridsdale said Cardinal Pell had made it clear he did not have the power or the interest to change the structure of the church, "so we need to speak to the boss".

DAY FOUR: Survivors contact Pope Francis

Australian survivors of sex abuse committed by Catholic clergy have asked Pope Francis for a meeting to discuss protecting children in the future.

Abuse survivors sent a fax to the Pope requesting a meeting before they depart Rome, as Royal Commission hearings take place with Cardinal Pell.

Pell had already agreed to meet with survivors, but victims said they had lost faith in him following his testimony.

Peter Blenkiron, one of the survivors of abuse by Catholic clergy in Australia arrives at the Quirinale hotel in Rome on February 28, 2016 to hear evidence from Cardinal George Pell.

"This is about children," the note faxed to the Vatican reads.

"Children that were abused and damaged in the past. Protecting children into the future.

"We would like to request a meeting to discuss a commitment to the children of the past and the children of the future to implement systems so this is never to be repeated."

The note was shared by newspaper La Repubblica.

Photo: La

Cardinal Pell has admitted he did nothing after a schoolboy complained to him about a pedophile Christian Brother abusing children at a Victorian school.

He denied he could have stopped more abuse occurring.

The Royal Commission heard a student student at St Patricks College in Ballarat told Pell that Brother Edward Dowlan was 'misbehaving' with boys in 1974.

Pell said the boy ‘mentioned it casually in conversation’ and did not ask him to do anything.

When asked what he did with the information, Pell replied: 'I didn't do anything about it'.

Cardinal Pell has admitted he regretted his choice of words when speaking about Gerald Francis Ridsdale's crimes against children.

On day two of the Royal Commission Pell said Ridsdale's crimes was a 'sad story' but it 'was not much interest to me'.

On day four of the Royal Commission Pell said he regrets his words and admitted they were badly expressed at the time.

DAY THREE: 'The church was a world of crimes and cover ups'

Cardinal Pell told the commission on Wednesday the church in the 1970s and 1980s was a world of crimes and cover ups and he was left in the dark about serious sex abuse allegations against priests and brothers in Ballarat and Melbourne.

But his claims that he was deceived by an archbishop, a bishop and Catholic Education Office officials were challenged by counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness SC and commissioner Peter McClellan.

Ms Furness described his claim to have been deceived by at least four people across two dioceses as implausible and extraordinary.

The cardinal said he was telling the truth.

"This was an extraordinary world - a world of crimes and cover ups and people who did not want the status quo to be disturbed," Cardinal Pell replied.

Cardinal Pell accused former Melbourne archbishop Frank Little and CEO officials of not telling him about accusations made against priest Peter Searson, while on Tuesday he made similar claims against Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns and his knowledge of the crimes of pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale.

The commission heard that a delegation of teachers from the Melbourne parish of Doveton went to Cardinal Pell - then an auxiliary bishop - in November 1989 about Searson harassing children, staff and parents, showing children a body in a coffin, committing acts of animal cruelty and unnecessarily using the children's toilets.

Cardinal Pell said the CEO did not brief him adequately about Searson and that Archbishop Little had also deceived him by not revealing the complaints he had received.

Ms Furness suggested the cardinal's claims about not being properly briefed were "completely implausible" because the education office had acted to pass on complaints to other senior figures.

"I can only tell you the truth," the cardinal replied.

Cardinal Pell said he believed the CEO hid details from him because he was known to be outspoken and they were "very keen to keep the lid on the situation".

Cardinal Pell has maintained he did not know about pedophile priests in Ballarat, where he was a priest and advisor to Bishop Mulkearns in the 1970s, and the episcopal vicar for education in diocese schools.

He told the commission he had heard "unfortunate rumours" about Christian Brother Edward Dowlan who abused children at schools in the diocese but said he was not concerned when Dowlan was moved from one school to another because he did not know the exact accusations against him.

"More than 40 years ago I did not think that was unusual or inappropriate," he said.

Cardinal Pell has admitted he should have done more when he was told about rumours of a Christian Brother’s abuse of children in the 1970s.

Pell said he heard vague and unspecific rumours about Brother Edward Dowlan from two students and two priests, but was told by the school chaplain at Ballarat's St Patrick's College that the Christian Brothers were dealing with it.

"I regret that I didn't do more at that stage," he said during day three of the Royal Commission.

Cardinal Pell arrived at a Rome hotel for his third night of testimony to the child sex abuse commission sitting in Sydney.

Plain-clothes state police kept journalists back as the cardinal walked the few steps to the hotel door, refusing to answer questions about the hearing.

He is being questioned about what he knew of pedophile priests operating in Ballarat and Melbourne when he served there in the 1970s and 1980s.

Cardinal Pell faces day three of the Royal Commission into child sex abuse. Photo: AAP

The nephew of Gerald Ridsdale, David Ridsdale, who was abused by his uncle and is among those in Rome, said Cardinal Pell was "either culpable or an ignorant buffoon".

"I don't believe he's the latter and we have no evidence of the former so we have to wait for the commission to do its job," he said.

After Tuesday's hearing, survivors in Rome to see Cardinal Pell give evidence visited a refuge for Catholic Australian pilgrims to tie ribbons in support of those who suffered abuse.

The survivors, who were sexually abused as children by pedophile priests in the Victorian diocese of Ballarat, tied coloured ribbons to a window of Domus Australia, a guest house and support centre for pilgrims set up with the cardinal's backing.

The ribbon tying is part of the Loud Fence campaign started by three women in Ballarat to show support for survivors when they went to court to confront and testify against their abusers.

The cardinal will resume his evidence from the Hotel Quirinale in Rome on Wednesday at 0800 AEDT.

DAY TWO: Pell: Ridsdale’s offences a ‘sad story’ that was ‘not of much interest to me’

On day two Cardinal George Pell has faced further questions as to whether he knew about Gerald Francis Ridsdale's crimes against children.

Pell maintained he knew nothing and was ‘deceived’ by then Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns.

He said Ridsdale’s offences were a ‘sad story’ that was ‘not of much interest to me’.

His comment drew gasps from some of those in the room, many who were victims of child abuse who had travelled to Rome to hear his testimony.

'The suffering, of course, was real and I very much regret that, but I had no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evils that Ridsdale had perpetrated,' he later said.

He was questioned about Ridsdale’s application for study leave in 1980, a move counsel said ‘extended the pattern of unusual movements’.

Pell said it later became known to him the real reason for Ridsdale’s leave was to remove him from parish life.

"That certainly wasn't clear to me or known to me at the time," he says.

He claimed Mulkearns and Monsignor Fiscalini know of the complaints against Ridsdale at the time but said they did not share their knowledge with him.

“At the time, what we knew was that he wanted to take a course of spiritual and intellectual and personal renewal,” Cardinal Pell said.

Cardinal Pell said he has the full backing of Pope Francis before he arrived to give evidence via video link from Rome on day two of the Royal Commission into child sex abuse.

On day two he arrived two hours ahead of the scheduled start time.

“I have the full backing of the Pope,” he said as he entered the Hotel Quirinale.

DAY ONE: A ‘predisposition’ not to believe children

Cardinal Pell told the Royal Commission that the way a Victorian bishop dealt with pedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale was a catastrophe for both victims and the church.

Former Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns knew Ridsdale had abused boys in 1975, but moved him between parishes and did not suspend his priestly faculties until 13 years later.

"The way he was dealt with that was a catastrophe, a catastrophe for the victims and a catastrophe for the church," Cardinal Pell told the child abuse royal commission from Rome.

"If effective action had been taken earlier an enormous amount of suffering would have been avoided.

"He simply gave him chance after chance after chance, shifted him around and initially at least trusted excessively in the possible benefits of psychological help."

Cardinal Pell said that if a priest denied child sex allegations he was inclined to accept it.

"I must say in those days, if a priest denied such activity, I was strongly inclined to accept the denial," he said.

Pell said there were plausible allegations made by ‘responsible people’ that were not investigated.

He said there was a ‘predisposition’ not to believe children.

“It was certainly more difficult for the child to be believed,” he said.

Cardinal Pell while being questioned during the Royal Commission into child sex abuse.

“Too many of them certainly were dismissed and sometimes they were dismissed in absolutely scandalous circumstances”.

Cardinal Pell was questioned about his role as an episcopal vicar and whether it involved complaints handling.

He agreed that his role would involve him being a link between parents, teachers and priests.

He said he couldn’t remember hearing complaints about teachers and touching kids but his ‘memory might be playing me false’.

When asked if parents or students ever approached him about teachers ‘touching them’, he said he couldn’t remember such complaints.

Following questions from the counsel assisting the Royal Commission, Gail Furness, SC, Cardinal Pell said he was not there to ‘defend the indefensible’.

“The church has made enormous mistakes and is working to remedy those, but the church in many places, certainly Australia, has mucked things up, has let people down. I’m not here to defend the indefensible”.

Cardinal Pell arrived at the hotel via side gate on Monday, to make his third appearance before the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse.

On his arrival, security allegedly took forceful action in order to protect him from the media.

However a spokeswoman fro Cardinal Pell has since said the incident did not involve his security.

"Cardinal Pell is sorry to hear of an incident involving two members of the media and Italian police just prior to giving evidence to the Royal Commission via video link in Rome," the statement said.

"The Italian Police are in charge of security outside and inside the hotel where the hearing is taking place and have been liaising with Commission staff."

The spokeswoman said Pell asked a member of his team to contact the media involved to check on their well being.

Cameramen were reportedly pushed and shoved and another reporter was punched.

Channel Seven reported Chris Reason said the visiting abuse survivors were not surprised by the heavy-handed tactics.

“We’re used to it,” victim Anthony Foster said.

Italian police were reportedly investigating, checking whether the private security had acted legally, and the Royal Commission has been notified.

The Australian survivors will watch the Cardinal, who was too sick to return to Australia for questioning, give his video testimony to the commission.

Paul Levely (C) and other survivors of abuse by Catholic clergy in Australia arrive at the Quirinale hotel in Rome on February 28, 2016 to hear evidence from Cardinal George Pell.
The Ballarat victims arrive in Rome. Photo: Chris Reason.

Before he began his testimony, he tied a yellow ribbon at the Lourdes grotto in the Vatican Gardens in support of Loud Fence, a movement supporting abuse victims.

"This is my gesture of support, especially for the people of Ballarat," Cardinal Pell said in a statement.

"I hope the coming days will eventually lead to healing for everyone."

Cardinal Pell served in Ballarat between 1973 and 1984, presiding over a primary school where four Christian Brothers were pedophiles and living in a presbytery with Australia's worst paedophile priest, Ridsdale, in 1973.

Ridsdale has been jailed for abusing 53 children but is the subject of 78 abuse claims to the diocese.

It is believed Ridsdale abused at least 1000 children across the western districts of Victoria, victims' advocacy group Broken Rites has said.