Cardinal George Pell's offer to appear during the second round of Royal Commission hearings in Ballarat later this year has been accepted, as the Vatican and leading Church figures in Australia ask for him to be given a "fair go."
According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the Royal Commission announced that its Chair had received a letter from Cardinal Pell indicating that he was prepared to come to Australia to give evidence. Last week, the Cardinal again promised full co-operation with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
"The Royal Commission will ask him to give evidence in the second of the Ballarat hearings," said the announcement.
The first Ballarat hearing, which focussed on survivors and the impact of child sexual abuse on the community, ended on Friday. The date for the second Ballarat hearing has not yet been fixed.
The Archbishop of Melbourne, Denis Hart, who is also the President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and was a bishop in Melbourne when Cardinal Pell was Archbishop there, yesterday spoke out in defence of Cardinal Pell, urging people to hold off from making hasty judgments.
"I hope all Australians who believe in a fair go will give Cardinal Pell the opportunity to answer the criticisms that have been raised in both the Royal Commission and the media before drawing any final conclusions," Archbishop Hart said in a statement.
Cardinal Pell is a "good man, an honest man" who has been willing to admit to his mistakes, the Archbishop said.
In Rome, the Vatican’s main spokesman, Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, downplayed comments made about the Cardinal by a member of Pope Francis’ 17-person commission on child sexual abuse, saying the member was speaking in his own name and not in the authority of the commission, reports NCR Online.
Fr Lombardi said in a statement yesterday that the Papal Commission on child sexual abuse "does not have the task of investigating and pronouncing specific judgment on single cases.”
And the head of the Church's Truth. Justice and Healing Commission, Francis Sullivan, speaking on ABC News Breakfast, also weighed in.
"He does not openly express his feelings," said Sullivan. "I know him at a personal level and I know that he does have lots of concerns about individuals who have been abused in the Catholic Church. I know that, but it doesn't come across that way. In lots of ways, he's his own worst enemy when it comes to that."
In related news, a spokesperson for Cardinal Pell says he will seek legal advice after the member of the Vatican's commission on child abuse spoke to 60 Minutes and made disparaging remarks about his character and called his position "untenable."
The spokesperson called the statements "false and misleading."
"From his earliest actions as an Archbishop, Cardinal Pell has taken a strong stand against child sexual abuse and put in place processes to enable complaints to be brought forward and independently investigated," the spokesperson said in a statement.
"In light of all of the available material, including evidence from the Cardinal under oath, there is no excuse for broadcasting incorrect and prejudicial material. In the circumstances, the Cardinal is left no alternative but to consult with his legal advisers."
Vatican defends Australian Cardinal (Yahoo7)
Give Pell a fair go, says Catholic Church (AAP/Daily Mail Australia)