Cardinal Pell described as 'almost sociopathic' by Pope's commissioner for child protection

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Kerrie Armstrong

Cardinal George Pell has rejected claims he was involved in an alleged sex abuse cover-up.

Cardinal George Pell has rejected claims he was involved in an alleged sex abuse cover-up. Photo: AP

Cardinal George Pell is "a dangerous individual" and "almost sociopathic" in his response to child sexual abuse victims, Pope Francis' specially-appointed commissioner for the protection of children, Peter Saunders, says.

In an interview with Channel 9's 60 Minutes, Mr Saunders said Cardinal Pell had a "moral responsibility" to front the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and address allegations that he knew of priests abusing children in Ballarat and elsewhere but did nothing to stop it. Cardinal Pell has denied these accusations.

"I personally think that his position is untenable, because he has now a catalogue of denials," Mr Saunders said in the interview which aired on Sunday night. "He has a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness, cold-heartedness – almost sociopathic, I would go as far as to say – this lack of care."

Pope Francis last December appointed Mr Saunders, himself a survivor of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, to the new Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors to ensure the Catholic Church acted with greater accountability and transparency in relation to child sexual abuse.

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Mr Saunders said by refusing to front the royal commission until he was specifically invited, Cardinal Pell was "making a mockery of the Papal Commission, of the Pope himself, but most of all, of the victims and the survivors".

"I think anybody who is a serious obstacle to the work of the commission and to the work of the Pope in trying to clean up the church's act over this matter, I think they need to be taken aside very, very quickly and removed from any kind of position of influence."

Cardinal Pell was appointed to manage the Vatican's finances in February last year, making him one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church.

There have been questions raised over whether Cardinal Pell had supported notorious paedophile priests, including Gerald Ridsdale, instead of protecting victims and their families.

Cardinal Pell has previously apologised to the commission for accompanying Ridsdale to court in 1993, but has denied he tried to bribe a victim to keep quiet as part of a cover-up and that he was dismissive of victims and their families.

Mr Saunders said Cardinal Pell was present at a meeting with Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns in 1982 in which they discussed the need to move Gerald Ridsdale to another parish, one of the ways the church frequently dealt with paedophile priests.

"I think it's inconceivable that they would not have known [why Ridsdale was being moved]," he said.

"To me, it seems highly likely that George Pell knew, and if he knew, and if the bishop knew, then these are people who should actually be facing criminal charges now, not just sanctions at the hands of the Pope or the church or the attention of the media.

"These are people who have allegedly allowed the abuse of children to continue – sometimes for many years – and that is an unforgivable crime.

"I think it's critical [Cardinal Pell] is moved aside – that he is sent back to Australia and that the Pope takes the strongest action against him."

Cardinal Pell declined a request from 60 Minutes to be interviewed for the program but last week wrote the commission reiterating he would appear in person if required.

"Without wanting to pre-empt the Royal Commission in any way – you can't just invite yourself to give evidence – I want to make it absolutely clear that I am willing to give evidence should the Commission request this, be it by statement, appearance by video link, or by attending personally," he wrote.

"Like everyone else I am horrified by the accounts that survivors have given in their evidence during the Ballarat hearings, and at the enormous impact the abuse has had on them, their families and the community."