Australian paedophilia Commission gives green light to Pell testifying via video link

The Vatican Secretary for the Economy is being called to give evidence after he was accused of covering up an old abuse case. Polisca says the cardinal is unable to attend the hearing in person due to health reasons

Cardinal Pell


The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – a commission set up by the Australian government in 2013 to investigate cases of child abuse perpetrated by priests amongst others – has accepted Cardinal George Pell’s request to testify via video link instead of making the long trip to Australia, on the grounds that he is too sick to travel. Pell, who is the former archbishop of Sydney and current Prefect of the Vatican Secretariat for the Economy, has been called to give evidence to the Royal Commission after he was accused of failing to respond to reported sex abuse cases.

A note by Justice Peter McClellan was released in Australia this morning, outlining the situation: “Cardinal George Pell, ministered as a priest in Ballarat and was, for a period of time, advisor to one of the bishops in the diocese, Mgr. Mulkearns. As part of this role, he and another advisor were responsible for giving recommendations regarding the nomination of priests in parishes and to provide more general advice on administrative questions relating to the diocese. Pell was advisor during a period when there were cases of clerical sex abuse against children in the diocese and he was present at the meetings held to discuss the nomination of at least one parish priest who was a known child sex offender. Pell then became Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1987. He held that role until 1996 when he was appointed Archbishop of Melbourne. The information currently at the Commission’s disposal indicates that as Auxiliary Bishop he was responsible for areas of the archdiocese where there was at least one abusive priest serving. As an Auxiliary priest he was a member of the archbishop’s personal advisory committee and a member of the curia. During his time as Archbishop he was obviously responsible for the overall management of the entire diocese. Given Cardinal Pell’s role in Ballarat and Melbourne, the commissioners consider it imperative for Pell to give evidence and explain his actions during the periods in question. In addition to the positions he held in Ballarat and Melbourne, Pell was also Archbishop of Sydney. In Melbourne he was in charge of the Melbourne Response programme and he gave evidence when it was examined in a case study. The case involving John Ellis was discussed when Pell was Archbishop of Sydney and the latter gave evidence on this case and on the functioning of the “Towards Healing” programme run by the Archdiocese of Sydney. The commissioners are now asking for Cardinal Pell’s assistance on questions that are different from those he has already testified on.”

“When Pell testified before the Royal Commission he was living in Sydney. The second time, when the Melbourne Response programme was examined, it was agreed that he could give evidence via video link from Rome, where he now resides. The testimony he will be required to give in the upcoming hearings will be more extensive than in the past.”

“At the hearing in Melbourne on 11 December last year, a representative of Cardinal Pell’s said that given his current state of health the cardinal had been advised not to undertake long journeys by aeroplane and for this reason the cardinal asked to give evidence via video link. The commissioners did not have access to this request,” Justice McClellan continued. ‘I said: given the complexity of the issues in question and the fact that the Commission is looking at two case studies that cover an extensive period of time, not to mention the technical complications that arose during the last testimony the cardinal gave via video link from Rome, it would be preferable if he were in Australia to give evidence in person.’ In the hope of an improvement in the cardinal’s health, we have set aside other considerations regarding the procedure to follow.”

“After the question was examined in December, I was told that the technical problems witnessed last time have been resolved and the video link from Rome should be satisfactory. However, bearing in mind the other questions I mentioned, it would be preferable, though not essential, for Pell to go to Australia to testify in person.”

“Mr. Myers, Pell’s representative, renewed Pell’s request to give evidence via video link from Rome. To support the request, he provided a medical report prepared by Patrizio Polisca, director of complex care emergency medicine at Tor Vergata University Teaching Hospital in Rome, dated 29 January 2016.”

Until last July, Polisca served as the Pope’s doctor. “The report confirms the evidence previously before the Royal Commission and indicates that Cardinal Pell is suffering from hypertension (for which he is being treated), ischemic heart disease, complicated by a previous myocardial infarction, cardiac dysfunction related to the arterial hypertension and previous ischemia and some other issues not of immediate relevance.”

“The professor concludes his medical report as such: ‘All the above mentioned functional and clinical changes have a negative synergistic effect with regard to your cardiovascular and respiratory functional capacity, in particular when going on a small walk on [sic] even slight physical exertion, when preparing to spend prolonged periods in a depressurised environment (airplane flight), with consequent relative haematic hypoxia and increase in blood pressure. Due to that outlined above, the undertaking of a long journey could induce an episode of heart failure and were this to occur during a flight it would also be difficult to treat. In conclusion, the clinical problems which Your Eminence presents therefore make it difficult for you to undertake a flight to Australia, which could entail serious risks to Your health.”

In response to the report, the commission published the following note: “Although people with the conditions that Cardinal Pell has may fly long distances it is apparent from the medical report that in the case of Cardinal Pell there is a risk to his health if he undertook such travel at the present time. Having regard to the nature of his ailments it could not be expected that his health is likely to improve and remove those risks. Although it would be preferable if he gave evidence in Australia, when the alternative that he give evidence by video link is available the Commissioners are satisfied that course should be adopted.”

As there will not be time for the Cardinal to give his video testimony during the Ballarat hearings, it will be postponed until Monday 29 February, when the Commission will be sitting in Sydney. The testimony is expected to take up three sessions. The staff of the commission will discuss the exact times with Pell’s representatives, taking into consideration the time difference.

Paedophilia victims mentioned the cardinal’s name on a number occasions in past hearings. They claim he ignored and even covered up incidents of abuse committed by priests for decades, allowing their transferral from one parish to another. Pell has consistently declined and denied these allegations.

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