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George Pell, it's time to stop running.

Victims of abuse have flown from across the world to testify – but the man who allegedly protected sex offenders is a no-show.

It has given a voice to the most vulnerable victims of the most abhorrent crimes.

Children who were sexually abused in schools, churches, sporting clubs and other organisations that were meant to keep them safe.

It has uncovered story after story, of lives, families and futures destroyed.

It has given victims an opportunity for closure that has eluded many of them for decades. In the tiniest of ways, it has given victims a long overdue opportunity for redress.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse has done all of these things.

But Cardinal George Pell is too sick to turn up to the Commission and explain why the Catholic Church appears to have been complicit in ruining so many lives.

“It has shown how the torment of sexual abuse is not limited to the physical and psychological damage it wreaks on the victims…”

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was set up in 2013 to investigate the hundreds and thousands of Australian children sexually abused within institutions and to examine the way those institutions responded.

The Commission has found that, too often, organisations failed to report allegations to police. They failed to hold perpetrators accountable. They failed to take complaints seriously.

The Catholic Church is one of those Institutions. In particular, Cardinal Pell had been called to respond to allegations that he tried to induce David Ridsdale, the nephew and victim of notorious pedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale, to keep quiet about his abuse.

Cardinal Pell, who lives in the Vatican and serves as its finance chief, was due to give evidence in December. He pulled out the week before due to his ill-health and was scheduled to appear in February if his health allows.

Next Friday the Royal Commission will hold a directions hearing in Sydney to hear whether Cardinal George Pell will appear in person when hearings resume. But it seems unlikely Pell will appear. His office in Rome has confirmed he is still too unwell to travel to Australia.

On the 15th of January he was not too unwell to attend the Global Foundation Organisation’s two day summit with various world leaders, nor was he too poorly to deliver a keynote address at dinner.

In December last year Cardinal George Pell had his lawyers ask for a private meeting to discuss the Cardinal’s non-attendance. He is, they say, too sick to travel. His blood pressure is too high.

Pell’s lawyers’ request for a private meeting was rejected by the Commission: “It is not appropriate that the essential requests contained in the letter be confidential, and it was not appropriate for me to meet with Mr Myers on a confidential basis,” Justice McClellan said. “I have not done so.”

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It is a bitter pill for victims to swallow. Another reminder that Pell inhabits a world with a different set of rules: where lawyers can be readily engaged to pursue the result he desires, where power can be readily deployed to achieve what he wants.

The fact a confidential meeting with Justice McClellan was tabled at all suggests that Cardinal Pell, or his lawyers at least, remain attached to the notion that Australia’s most senior Catholic cleric is not bound by the same rules that govern everyone else.

How many victims and their families have endured life-long psychological trauma and illness, and yet still appeared at the Royal Commission? How many witnesses have sought confidential meetings with the Chair?

Pell’s obfuscation this week is particularly galling given allegations of his lack of compassion for victims of abuse within the Church and their families.

<> on April 2, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.
Image Via Getty Images: Franco Origlia

Earlier this year Peter Saunders, an abuse survivor and one of the Pope’s special advisers on the protection of children, called Pell’s position within the Church “untenable” as a result.

“Personally I think that his position is untenable because he has now a catalogue of denials. He has a catalogue of denigrating people, of acting with callousness, cold-heartedness, almost sociopathic I would go as far as to say, this lack of care. Given the position of George Pell as a cardinal of the church and a position of huge authority within the Vatican, I think he is a massive, massive thorn in the side of Pope Francis’s papacy if he’s allowed to remain. And I think it’s critical that he is moved aside, that he is sent back to Australia, and that the Pope takes the strongest action against him.”

A spokesperson for Pell immediately released a statement saying the Cardinal had no choice but to pursue legal action against Saunders. The same statement emphasised his unequivocal stance stamping out sexual abuse.

“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.”

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Yet the claim doesn’t reconcile easily.

As archbishop of Melbourne, George Pell allegedly allowed a priest found to have sexually abused a teenager after officiating at his mother’s funeral to continue working in another parish.

In 1974 Timothy Green recalls telling Pell that Brother Edward Vernon Dowlan was abusing boys at Ballarat’s St Patrick’s College. “I said ‘Brother Dowlan is touching little boys’,” said Green, who said he was also a victim of Dowlan. “Father Pell said ‘don’t be ridiculous’ and walked out,” Green said. Pell disputes this.

In Sydney, he wrote to a victim of abuse and said the priest in question had received no other complaints, when Pell had written to another of the priest’s victims that same day. He later said his letter was “badly worded and a mistake”.

In 1996 Melbourne couple Chrissie and Anthony Foster met with George Pell and showed him a photograph of their daughter Emma with bleeding arms, having cut her own wrists. Emma, and her sister Katie, were abused by Father Kevin O’Donnell in the presbytery attached to their primary school and had become suicidal.

When he was presented with the same disturbing picture during a 60 Minutes interview in 2002, he claimed he hadn’t seen it before. But eight years later, Pell told a newspaper that the Fosters had shown him the picture. His denial on national television had been “an honest mistake”.

In 1998 he lobbied for payments to be made to a paedophile priest days before he was charged with sex offences, according to documents tendered to the child abuse royal commission.

“Cardinal Pell can no longer hide behind the Church’s cloak of privilege and power.”

David Risdale is unimpressed by Pell’s postponed appearance.

“I’m disgusted,” he said. “I have spent the last year dealing with the stress. I’ve flown from London. I didn’t use my blood pressure to prevent me from getting here. I’m not disappointed, I’m furious. It’s fairly simple. He needs to come and answer some questions.”

Indeed he does. The time for obfuscation and excuses is over. Cardinal Pell can no longer hide behind the Church’s cloak of privilege and power. Those days are gone.

As the Catholic Church chief executive Francis Sullivan said this year: “We’re at a time in Australia as a Catholic Church that … we cannot afford to send any signal at any time that the Church, its image and its leadership is more important than the … lives of those who have been abused.”

It is time for George Pell to come home and address the Inquiry. His failure to appear simply reinforces the signal that he believes, and the Church by proxy, that he is above those who have been abused.

It’s time for Pell – and the Church – to face the music.

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