A Roman Catholic archbishop admitted on a television program Sunday that he offered the family of two child sex abuse victims 50,000 Australian dollars (dlrs 28,000) if they kept silent about a priest’s assaults.
Nine Network’s “60 Minutes” program said the offer by Sydney Archbishop George Pell, the Church’s most senior clergyman in Australia, was made to the family of two girls who were sexually abused by their local priest over six years since 1987, when the youngest girl was five years old.
The local priest was not named in the program.
The girls’ parents, who gave only their first names — Garry and Elizabeth — said on the program that they met with Pell, who was an auxiliary bishop in their area at the time.
They were later sent a letter from lawyers on Pell’s behalf saying they could either take 50,000 Australian dollars (dlrs 28,000) in compensation for the abuse of their oldest daughter, or take the matter to court where the church’s case would be “strenuously defended.”
Pell initially said the program that he had not offered the parents any money. But after being presented with the letter, he admitted that he had.
“I offered them 50 grand in compensation according to the publicly acknowledged procedure,” Pell said. “They chose not to accept that.”
Pell’s statements came 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.
The Australian program also said Pell, when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Ballarat diocese in Victoria state, tried to buy the silence of David Ridsdale, who was sexually abused by Ridsdale’s uncle, Father Gerald Ridsdale, also a priest.
Gerald Ridsdale pleaded guilty in 1994 to 46 sexual assault charges and was sentenced to a minimum of 15 years in prison.
David Ridsdale claimed that when he turned to Pell for help in early 1993, Pell told him: `I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet.”
Pell said he may have offered to help David Ridsdale, but did not offer a bribe.
“I couldn’t, would never have said that,” Pell said. “I had no capacity to offer him anything, anywhere. His recollection is wrong.”