Australia’s Catholic archbishops have backed Cardinal George Pell as a man of integrity.
The archbishops of Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Hobart and Canberra-Goulburn said they know Cardinal Pell well and while his style can be robust and direct, underneath he has a big heart for people.
“He is a man of integrity who is committed to the truth and to helping others, particularly those who have been hurt or who are struggling,” the joint statement said on Thursday.
Cardinal Pell was one of the first bishops in the world to put in place a comprehensive church response to investigate allegations of sex abuse by Catholic clergy and to provide survivors with redress and counselling, the statement said.
“He has responded to criticisms that have been made of his handling of these matters over the years, acknowledged mistakes frankly, and apologised for them.”
Cardinal Pell has repeatedly rejected claims he tried to bribe one victim to keep quiet, ignored complaints and was involved in moving Australia’s worst pedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, to a different parish.
The claims were aired again during the child sex abuse royal commission’s public hearing into widespread abuse in the Ballarat diocese.
The commission will ask Cardinal Pell to give evidence in its second Ballarat hearing, expected to be held in November or December. He has told the commission he is prepared to return to Australia from Rome to testify.
A member of Pope Francis’s child protection commission, Peter Saunders, has said Cardinal Pell’s position as the Vatican’s finance chief is untenable.
The archbishops’ joint statement, also backed by Sydney’s auxiliary bishop and the bishop of Broken Bay, said they appreciated the cardinal’s strong and unfailing support for the royal commission.
Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart on Monday said Cardinal Pell has always been determined to address the evil of clergy sexual abuse in the church, deal with perpetrators and provide healing for survivors.
The only Australian archbishop not to speak out in support of Cardinal Pell is Adelaide Archbishop Philip Wilson, who took leave in March to fight a NSW charge of concealing child sex abuse committed by pedophile priest James Fletcher in 1971.