Cardinal George Pell is seeking legal advice after a member of the Vatican’s child protection commission called him “almost sociopathic” and appealed for his dismissal from the Vatican.
A spokesman for the prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy said the cardinal was taking the step in response to Peter Saunders’s comments in the Australian television news programme 60 Minutes.
Mr Saunders, an abuse survivor and member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors, told the programme the former Archbishop of Sydney’s position was “untenable” following accusations that he bribed an abuse victim to remain silent – an allegation the cardinal strongly denies.
Mr Saunders said: “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.
“Given the position of George Pell as a cardinal of the Church and a position of huge authority within the Vatican, I think he is a massive, massive thorn in the side of Pope Francis’s papacy if he’s allowed to remain.
“And I think it’s critical that he is moved aside, that he is sent back to Australia, and that the Pope takes the strongest action against him.”
In a statement Cardinal Pell’s spokesman said: “The false and misleading claims made against His Eminence are outrageous.
“From his earliest actions as an archbishop, Cardinal Pell has taken a strong stand against child sexual abuse and put in place processes to enable complaints to be brought forward and independently investigated.
“Cardinal Pell has never met Mr Saunders, who seems to have formed his strong opinions without ever having spoken to His Eminence.
“In light of all of the available material, including evidence from the cardinal under oath, there is no excuse for broadcasting incorrect and prejudicial material.
“In the circumstances, the cardinal is left no alternative but to consult with his legal advisers.”
The Australian Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse said on Monday that it would ask Cardinal Pell to give evidence at a hearing on abuse in Ballarat in the state of Victoria.
Cardinal Pell has said he is prepared to return to Australia to appear before the commission. He has appeared before the body twice previously.