Australia

Vatican finance chief legal threat over 'sociopath' claim

Australian Cardinal George Pell arrives for a meeting, at the Vatican, 2013 Image copyright AP
Image caption A spokesman for Cardinal Pell said the allegations were "false and misleading"

The Vatican's finance chief George Pell is seeking legal advice after being accused of an "almost sociopathic" approach to child abuse allegations.

The allegations from Peter Saunders, a member of the Vatican's own commission on child protection, come as Australia investigates historic abuses.

Australian-born Cardinal Pell denies accusations he helped cover up abuses by a paedophile priest.

He has offered to testify at the Australian inquiry.

Mr Saunders, himself a victim of abuse by a priest, was appointed by Pope Francis last year to the Vatican's new commission to protect children.

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Pope Francis last year established a special commission for the protection of children

He said Cardinal Pell had a "catalogue of denial" about child abuse in the church, which was "making a mockery" of the Vatican's wider abuse investigations.

"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," he said about the Cardinal's handling of abuse claims.

"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."

A spokesperson for Mr Pell on Monday described the claims as "false and misleading" and said the Cardinal would now consult with his legal advisers.

"Cardinal Pell has never met Mr Saunders, who seems to have formed his strong opinions without ever having spoken to His Eminence," said the spokesperson 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," the statement said.

Abuse investigation

Australia is investigating how schools, churches and the government responded to child abuse cases.

A royal commission has been hearing testimony from victims in Ballarat in the state of Victoria, where priest Gerald Ridsdale had sexually abused dozens of boys in various parishes between the 1950s and 1970s.

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Image caption Senior Australian Catholic clergy are accused of protecting paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale

Cardinal Pell has been accused of being complicit in moving Ridsdale around the state, and of attempting to bribe Ridsdale's nephew into keeping quiet about his abuse.

Ridsdale, 81, was defrocked and is in jail for more than 140 sexual offences against child victims. He has been testifying at the inquiry.

Last Thursday the commission released a letter from Cardinal Pell saying he was "horrified" by the accounts given in Ballarat.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was formed in April 2013, following pressure from lawmakers amid police claims that the Roman Catholic Church had concealed evidence of paedophile priests.

There were revelations that child abusers were being moved from place to place instead of being reported to and investigated by police for their alleged crimes.

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