Cardinal Pell’s lawyer has called on his critic Peter Saunders to withdraw allegations he made on Australian television.
Mr Saunders, a member of the Vatican’s advisory commission on child sexual abuse, had accused the cardinal of knowing that a paedophile priest, Fr Gerald Ridsdale, had abused children – a claim the cardinal has repeatedly denied.
“He has a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness, cold-heartedness – [it’s] almost sociopathic I would go as far as to say, this lack of care,” Mr Saunders said in the interview.
He went on: “In all the interviews, in all I’ve read, in all I’ve heard, I have seen not a shred of evidence that George Pell has any sympathy, empathy or any kind of understanding or concern for victims and survivors of these crimes.”
Mr Saunders called on Pope Francis to remove Cardinal Pell from his position as Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy.
“I think given the position of George Pell as a cardinal of the Church, and a position of huge authority within the Vatican, I think he’s a massive, massive thorn in the side of Pope Francis’s papacy if he’s allowed to remain,” he said.
Last Thursday Cardinal Pell’s lawyer Richard Leder wrote to Mr Saunders saying that his claims were inconsistent with the position of the Church.
“The cardinal is concerned that you have presented yourself as a spokesperson for the committee, adopting the authority of the Pontifical Commission and the Holy See in a wholly misleading manner. This is confirmed by the many media reports that suggest you made the comments in an official capacity. The cardinal is concerned that you allowed this to occur,” he said.
“As you know, over the past two years, the cardinal has given evidence twice before the Royal Commission and once before the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry. He has refuted on oath the various allegations which you chose to repeat on 60 Minutes. In the light of those appearances, your comments were either uninformed as to the relevant history, or were deliberately selective.”
The lawyer concluded: “The cardinal is concerned that you knew, or should have known at the time, that each of those matters was factually wrong, and before speaking, you should have made proper enquiries to ensure your opinions were based on reliable information.
“The cardinal invites you to correct the public record and withdraw these false allegations.”
Gabrielle Shaw, chief executive officer of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), which was founded by Mr Saunders, said: “Peter has received a massive outpouring of support and good wishes for what he said not just from Australia but from around the world.
“He is now in the process of seeking legal advice. He won’t be making any comment about the letter or Cardinal Pell until he has received legal advice.
“The thing we want to get across strongly is that the primary focus should be on the victims and survivors and our thoughts are with them.”