British victim of clerical sex abuse chosen to help root out paedophilia in the Catholic Church may face legal action from Vatican adviser

Peter Saunders said Cardinal George Pell had 'a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness, cold-heartedness'

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The Independent Online

A British clerical sex abuse victim chosen by Pope Francis to help root out paedophilia in the Catholic Church has been threatened with legal action by one of the pontiff’s closest advisers for suggesting he helped conceal child sex abuse in his native Australia.

London-based Peter Saunders told a television documentary that Cardinal George Pell had ignored and even denigrated clerical abuse victims as part of the Church’s widespread cover-up of paedophile activity.

Mr Saunders, who was picked by the Pope to work on the Church’s commission for the protection of children, went on to demand the Cardinal’s resignation. “I personally think that his position is untenable,” said Mr Saunders. “Because he has a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness, cold-heartedness. It’s making a mockery of the commission, but above all of the victims and survivors.”

The claims were firmly denied by the Vatican, where Cardinal Pell has gained a reputation as a highly effective agent in the fight against the institution’s other ingrained problem: financial impropriety. “Cardinal Pell has always responded attentively and in detail to the questions posed by Australian authorities,” the Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said. The Cardinal’s comments should be “considered reliable and worthy of respect and attention”.


Cardinal Pell, who has denied these allegations before, said Mr Saunders’ claims were “false and offensive”, and announced he was consulting lawyers. But Mr Saunders, who founded the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, told The Independent: “The Church has a history of spending millions to protect paedophile priests and nuns.

“I’m not afraid. I will not be silenced, and if he does try to sue me I think we will see the size of the reaction. I’ve been overwhelmed with messages of support from Australian abuse victims who say that I’m giving them a voice they never had.”

But the Cardinal’s spokesman said: “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.”

Many of the claims made against Cardinal Pell relate to the case of the jailed priest Gerald Ridsdale, with whom he shared a house in the late 1970s in the Australian town of Ballarat. Ridsdale was subsequently convicted for more than 140 sexual assaults against children as young as four over three decades until the 1980s.