Australian Cardinal George Pell, Prefect of the Secretariat for the Economy of the Holy See, attends a press conference on March 31, 2014 at the Vatican (AFP Photo/Andreas Solaro)
Pope Francis' finance chief Wednesday said he was ready to give evidence at a child abuse inquiry in his native Australia, as the nation's most notorious pedophile priest insisted the pair had little to do with each other.
Cardinal George Pell — formerly the top Catholic cleric in Australia and now a senior Vatican official — was accused by a victim during the hearings last week of trying to bribe him to keep quiet.
He was also accused of ignoring complaints and being complicit in moving padophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, who appeared at the hearing via videolink from jail, to a different parish.
Pell last week strongly denied the claims in a statement, saying he was horrified by survivors' accounts of what they suffered at the hands of Ridsdale, whose offences spanned more than three decades from the 1950s to the late 1980s.
During that time Ridsdale abused at least 50 boys as he was moved from parish to parish across Victoria state. At one point he and Pell lived in the same presbytery.
One of the abused was his nephew David Ridsdale, who claimed he confided in family friend Pell about the assaults in 1993, alleging he was asked what it would cost to buy his silence.
Victims have demanded Pell, who was appointed by Pope Francis in February 2014 to make the Vatican's finances more transparent, return to give evidence in person and he said he was willing to do so.
"Without wanting to pre-empt the royal commission in any way — you can't just invite yourself to give evidence," Pell, who is not accused of child abuse, said in a statement, adding that he wanted to quash speculation he was hiding anything.
"I want to make it absolutely clear that I am willing to give evidence should the commission request this, be it by statement, appearance by video link, or by attending personally."
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was called after a decade of pressure to investigate wide-ranging allegations of pedophilia in Australia.
It has heard harrowing allegations of child abuse involving places of worship, orphanages, community groups and schools. Pell previously gave evidence in March 2014.
The hearings this week have focused on shocking abuse in the 1970s in the Victorian town of Ballarat, how Ridsdale was able to keep offending there and elsewhere and how much the Catholic Church knew.
Now 81 and frail, Ridsdale said he had himself been abused as a boy and that he had trouble controlling his sexual urges from a young age.
He said he could not recall much about his relationship with the then Father Pell in Ballarat in the 1970s.
"I never had much to do with him," he said.
In his statement Thursday Pell, who accompanied Ridsdale to court in 1993 when he admitted widespread abuse, said he was "deeply saddened by the way church authorities have failed in responding to these crimes".
Ridsdale added that he routinely went to confession over the decades he was a priest but claimed not to have told anyone about the abuse he was committing.
"I didn't confess the sexual offending against children," he said.
"Looking back on it, I think that the overriding fear would have been losing priesthood."
Ridsdale, who has been convicted in four separate court cases of abusing more than 50 children and will be eligible for parole in 2019, added that he could not remember committing many of the offences and had forgotten the names of some of his earliest victims. AFP