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Cardinal Pell dismisses claims he knew about abuse as ‘nonsense’

Cardinal George Pell leaves the Quirinale hotel in Rome early this morning afer testifying to the royal commission (PA)

Cardinal George Pell has told the Australian commission on child abuse that it is “nonsense” to suggest he knew about an abusive priest.

On the second day of his video testimony to the commission, counsel Gail Furness told the cardinal it was “implausible” that he had been ignorant of offences committed by Gerald Ridsdale, a former priest who committed more than 130 offences against young boys while working as a chaplain at Ballarat’s St Alipius school.

Cardinal Pell replied, “That is complete nonsense”, before adding that other clerics, notably Bishop Ronald Mulkearns and Mgr Leo Fiscalini, had kept him “in the dark”.

Cardinal Pell was on a committee with Bishop Mulkearns and Mgr Fiscalini which in 1982 approved of Ridsdale being moved to a different parish, after which the priest continued to abuse children. Cardinal Pell says he did not know Ridsdale’s previous record.

The cardinal suggested that Bishop Mulkearns realised “that I didn’t know and he did not want me to share in his culpability.”

Commissioner Peter McClellan expressed scepticism about Cardinal Pell’s claims, asking: “It is surprising, isn’t it, that a bishop and a senior cleric who joined with you in a committee to advise in relation to appointments would deceive a member of that committee?”

Cardinal Pell agreed: “It is surprising.”

The cardinal strongly criticised Bishop Mulkearns’s response to abuse allegations.

“I would have to say that I can’t nominate another bishop whose actions are so grave and inexplicable,” he said.

“There might be some but they don’t come to mind. His repeated refusal to act is, I think, absolutely extraordinary.”

Cardinal Pell is not facing criminal charges, but many questions have been raised about his knowledge of clerical abuse in the 1970s and 1980s. This was the second of four half-day appearances which he will make before the commission.

The cardinal has been given special dispensation to give evidence by video link to the commission in Sydney from a Rome hotel after he was deemed too ill to fly by doctors. The 74-year-old has a heart condition.