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Head of Australia's Catholic Church Refuses To Resign Over Sex-Abuse Cover-Up Claims

Jun 3, 2002 | AP

The head of Australia's Catholic Church on Monday refused to resign over accusations that he offered money to buy the silence of three people sexually abused as children by priests.

Sydney Archbishop George Pell said the church could have shown more compassion to the victims in its attempts at damage control. But, "the allegations that I attempted to silence anyone are totally unfounded and untrue," he told reporters, stressing there was no "hush money."

Pell admitted on Nine Network television Sunday night that he offered the family of two child sex-abuse victims 50,000 Australian dollars (dlrs 28,000) if they kept silent about the sexual abuse of their daughters by a priest.

But on Monday, Pell said he had merely asked the victims to keep the compensation offer secret if they chose not to accept it and to proceed with a civil suit against the church.

He added that he had been "ambushed" by the television interviewer and that was the reason for his conflicting answers.

The assaults, which continued for six years, began when the youngest girl was 5 years old.

Pell said he had followed the church's rules for dealing with child abuse. He rejected calls for his resignation.

But David Forster, a Melbourne lawyer who has represented more than 100 victims of sexual abuse, said: "If it's shown that he has not behaved appropriately, it's inappropriate for him to remain."

And Broken Rites, a non-denominational support group for people who have been abused sexually, physically or emotionally in religious institutions, has called for an investigation into the church's response to child sex-abuse victims.

Pell did agree with the suggestion that the church could have been more compassionate toward teh victims.

"I think you could say that, yes. But it is a wretched business and it is almost impossible to please everyone," he added.

Pell's statements come amid a crisis that has shaken the Catholic Church in the United States, with revelations that priests across the country abused children sexually and that senior clergy tried to conceal incidents by moving known offenders to other parishes.

Pell said while some 90 priests and Catholic Church employees in Australia have been convicted of sexual abuse over the last 10 years, the situation here isn't as bad as in the United States.

"I'm hoping that the worst is behind us," he said.

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