The man at the centre of the George Pell sex-abuse cover-up scandal is sticking to his guns.
David Ridsdale told 60 Minutes that he had phoned Pell in distress in 1993 to tell him about the abuse he had suffered at the hands of his uncle, a priest and colleague of Pell, Fr Gerald Ridsdale.
In the course of that conversation, according to David Ridsdale, Pell said: I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet. Ridsdale inferred from other comments made by Pell that he was being offered money or possibly a house or car for his silence.
Archbishop Pell has emphatically denied that he said those words or any words to that effect.
I firmly stand by what I said in my sworn statutory declaration and statement of last Thursday -“ namely that I did not attempt to silence any victim or buy them off. I repeat here that the allegations that I attempted to silence anyone are totally unfounded and untrue, Pell told the media on Monday.
However, speaking to ABC radio from his home in London on Tuesday morning, Ridsdale refused to back down from his allegations.
In a press conference called to defend himself on Monday, Pell said that Ridsdale’s allegations were inconsistent, discredited and wrong. (see story page 7)
However, in the ABC interview, Ridsdale has hit back, accusing the archbishop of choosing to ignore the true facts and use the ones that suit him.
Ridsdale said that the conversation was clear in my head as a bell.
I got so confused with his comments about, you know, my family’s needs for future purchases, my house and car and this and I said, -˜George, what are you saying?’ and that was when he said the simple line, -˜What will it take to keep you quiet?’ Ridsdale told the ABC.
Ridsdale said that he had not been paid for the 60 Minutes interview and that he did it in an effort to raise awareness of a broader social problem.
It doesn’t help me, it’s the opposite. I have had to dredge up a lot of painful memories, I’m receiving no financial benefit out of this, in fact I’m putting myself at risk and my family at risk more with the media attention. This isn’t a pleasant experience and I do this for a firm belief that this is a broader social problem, it’s a cycle that must stop.
Ridsdale said that he had agreed to do the interview because of recent publicity over the sex abuse crisis in the American Church. He said that he was particularly offended by assertions that the Vatican believed it was purely an American crisis.
While Pell faces his critics in Australia, his American colleagues are preparing for their annual national meeting of Catholic bishops to be held in Dallas next week. At the top of the Dallas agenda is a new policy on sex abuse within the Church.
The tough new policy will effectively institute a zero tolerance policy for new offenders.
Effective immediately, even a single act of abuse of a minor will bring about a request for laicisation [dismissal from the priesthood] even without the consent of the cleric, the policy states.
Some leeway is granted to one-time past offenders who have undergone treatment but all multiple offenders will also be subject to dismissal from the priesthood.
The draft policy released on Tuesday expresses profound regret for what the Catholic people have had to endure, and notes that the Church is currently experiencing a crisis without precedent in our times.
-˜-˜The sexual abuse of children and young people by some priests and bishops, and the ways in which these crimes and sins were too often dealt with by bishops, have caused enormous pain, anger and confusion. They have strained the bonds of trust that should unite us, the document says.
The draft policy is also highly critical of the culture of secrecy in the Church around sex abuse and explicitly precludes Church authorities entering into confidentiality agreements over settlements.
In the past, secrecy has created an atmosphere that has inhibited the healing process, and in some cases enabled sexually abusive behaviour to be repeated. Dioceses will not enter into confidentiality agreements except for grave and substantial reasons brought forward by the victim.