Australian abuse survivors who have been in Rome this week listening to Cardinal George Pell give testimony via video link met with him today in a private meeting of just over an hour.
The dozen survivors are from the cardinal’s former diocese of Ballarat in the state of Victoria, where a number of priest abusers have been committed of paedophilia offences. The costs of their Rome stay have been covered by crowdfunding.
Cardinal Pell was giving testimony about what he knew or didn’t know about those cases to an Australian commission looking at institutional responses to abuse (see CV Comment).
David Risdale, on behalf of the survivors, said it was an “extremely emotional” meeting in which everyone “met on a level playing field, as people from Ballarat”. He then said Cardinal Pell would be making a statement.
Cardinal Pell, who heads the Secretariat for the Economy, spoke of an “honest and occasionally emotional” meeting which acknowledged “the evil that was done.”
“We all want to try to make things better actually and on the ground especially for the survivors and their families and I undertake to continue to help the group work effectively with the committees and agencies that we have here in the Church in Rome and especially the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors,” Cardinal Pell said in a written statement (below).
He said he wanted to work with survivors to ensure “suicide is not seen as an option for those who are suffering” and said he wanted to explore the possibility of establishing a research centre in Ballarat to “enhance healing and improve protection”.
“I am committed to working with these people from Ballarat and surrounding areas,” he said. “I know many of their families and I know the goodness of so many people of Catholic Ballarat; the goodness that is not extinguished by the evil that was done.”
FULL STATEMENT FROM CARDINAL PELL
I’ve just met with about a dozen of the Ballarat survivors, support people and officials and heard each of their stories and of their sufferings. It was hard; an honest and occasionally emotional meeting. I am committed to working with these people from Ballarat and surrounding areas. I know many of their families and I know the goodness of so many people in Catholic Ballarat: a goodness which is not extinguished by the evil that was done.
We all want to try to make things better actually and on the ground especially for the survivors and their families and I undertake to continue to help the group work effectively with the committees and agencies that we have here in the Church in Rome and especially the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
One suicide is too many. And there have been many such tragic suicides. I commit myself to working with the group to try to stop this so that suicide is not seen as an option for those who are suffering. I, too, despite the separation of distance want to help to make Ballarat a model and a better place of healing, for healing, and for peace.
Now, I shouldn’t promise what might be impossible. We all know how hard it is to get things done. But I do want it known that I support the work to investigate the feasibility of a research center to enhance healing and to improve protection.
The church-going people of Ballarat diocese are known for their loyalty and for their charity. And I urge them to continue to cooperate with the survivors to improve the situation. I owe a lot to the people and community of Ballarat; I acknowledge that with deep gratitude. It would be marvelous if our city became well-known as an effective center and the example of practical help for all those wounded by the scourge of sexual abuse.