Child sex abuse victims to hear cardinal's testimony in Rome

CANBERRA, Australia - Victims of clergy abuse won permission on Monday to be present next week when Pope Francis's finance minister testifies from Rome to an Australian inquiry into child sex offences within the Roman Catholic Church.

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Child abuse victims angry that Cardinal George Pell will not return to Australia to testify at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse had requested that they be allowed to hear in person Pell's testimony by video conference, the inquiry's chairman Justice Peter McClellan said.

"The commission considers that to be a reasonable request," McClellan said.

Many victims and their families welcomed the opportunity to face the 74-year-old cleric as he explains what he knew about abuse allegations and what action he took in response.

Anthony Foster, whose two daughters were raped by the same priest, said he booked flights to Rome for himself and his wife hours after McClellan gave permission.

The couple blame the abuse for one daughter's suicide and for the other being left severely disabled when she was hit by a car while drunk.

"It's really important, the evidence that he's giving, and we wanted victims here to know that there was someone from their support group watching it happen," Foster said.

A crowd funding website set up last week to raise 55,000 Australian dollars ($39,000) to send 15 abuse victims and their supporters to Rome had raised more than AU$200,000 by Monday. The excess money will be spent on mental health services at Pell's hometown of Ballarat, the website said.

The Fosters, who are critical of Pell's responses to their daughters' abuse, are paying their own way.

Another victim of cleric abuse at a Catholic school in Ballarat, Paul Tatchell, said he worried that victims' focus on Pell may distract from the inquiry's work.

"I'm no fan of George Pell, but I'm just concerned that some of these things will give the impression of a witch hunt," said Tatchell, referring to the crowd funding and public criticism of Australia's most senior Catholic.

Pell, whom the pope placed in charge of the Vatican's finances in 2014, was to testify next Monday for a third time at the royal commission.

The inquiry ruled this month that the cardinal could give evidence by video from Rome because he was too ill to fly to Australia.

Pell said in a statement last week that he would co-operate with whatever arrangements the royal commission made for his testimony.

McClellan said a hotel room in central Rome had been selected as the venue for Pell's testimony, but its communications equipment had yet to be tested.

Pell is to give evidence about how church authorities responded to allegations of child sex abuse in Ballarat and in Melbourne, Australia's second-most populous city after Sydney.

He is accused of creating a victims' compensation program mainly to protect the church's assets and of using aggressive tactics to discourage victims' lawsuits, all while he was a bishop in Australia. He has denied any wrongdoing.


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