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imagesJane Lee


Cardinal George Pell’s former housemate has been accused of lying to a child abuse royal commission to “save” his friend from accusations that he tried to bribe a survivor to keep quiet.

At an earlier hearing, survivor David Ridsdale accused Cardinal Pell of trying to bribe him in 1993, after Mr Ridsdale told the cardinal that his uncle, paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale, had abused him.

Mr Ridsdale claimed that, during a telephone conversation, Cardinal Pell – at the time an auxilliary bishop – had said  “I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet”.

Cardinal George Pell's lawyers say the bribery claim arose out of a 'misunderstanding'. Cardinal George Pell’s lawyers say the bribery claim arose out of a ‘misunderstanding’. Photo: Joe Armao

Cardinal Pell has always denied this happened and his lawyers have argued that the claim arose out of a “misunderstanding”. .

Mentone priest Reverend John Walshe, who was living with Cardinal Pell at the time, told the commission in Ballarat that immediately after the call Cardinal Pell had appeared upset and worried for Mr Ridsdale.

“His demeanour,” Father Walshe said, “was not that of a person that had been in a rude or angry conversation”.

David Ridsdale said Cardinal Pell asked him 'what it will take to keep you quiet'.

David Ridsdale said Cardinal Pell asked him ‘what it will take to keep you quiet’. Photo: Simon O’Dwyer

Counsel assisting the commission, Angus Stewart, SC, said on Wednesday that Cardinal Pell’s legal team had inserted a number of details into Father Walshe’s statement.

These additions, Mr Stewart said, included the timing of Bishop Pell’s phone call with Mr Ridsdale and Father Walshe’s subsequent conversation with Bishop Pell, and where they were in the house.

“Father I put to you that you made up this statement to save your friend Cardinal Pell,” Mr Stewart said.

Father Walshe replied: “I absolutely deny that.”

Cardinal Pell and Father Walshe first met in the 1980s and became close when they began living together at the Bishop’s house in Mentone.

Father Walshe saw Cardinal Pell last month in Rome, but said they did not discuss the prospect of him giving evidence on Mr Ridsdale’s claims.

Cardinal Pell’s lawyers’ notes from their phone conversation with Father Walshe, which recorded his initial memories of the 1993 call, showed that he thought Mr Ridsdale had called Cardinal Pell in the evening, not the morning, and that he was unsure whether he was in the house at the time.

Father Walshe maintained that after thinking carefully about the events, and prompted by “triggers” including David Ridsdale’s own statement to the royal commission, he was able to remember more details that were different from his initial recollection.

Father Walshe said there could be other things he told the lawyers which were not recorded in their notes: “I’m sure there are some tweakings and that’s why I had the opportunity to read it and to refine and work through it.”

Mr Stewart also argued that Father Walshe thought his role was to “rebut David Ridsale” rather than to give a true account of what he actually remembered, which he denied.

“I suggest that your ultimate statement is in conflict with your unprompted recollection,” Mr Stewart said.

Under questioning, Father Walshe conceded he could not remember that a housekeeper had passed the phone call to Bishop Pell as he testified in his statement.

“Your actual memory of these events is vague at best, isn’t it Father?” Mr Stewart said.

“It’s not completely, absolutely clear but key points are fairly clear to me,” Father Walshe replied, including that Bishop Pell had said after the phone call that Gerald Ridsdale had abused his nephew who was “a mess”.

Father Walshe maintained he had only ever spoken to Cardinal Pell once about his memories of this time in passing in 2002.

He has told the commission the lawyers did not tell him what he was required to say in his statement.

Cardinal Pell’s testimony to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been deferred to next February after chairman Justice Peter McClellan accepting medical evidence he was too unwell to travel from Rome for the hearing.