Pell has maintained his innocence and has said he will appeal the conviction.
‘WORSE MORAL SCANDAL’
Two years into the new millennium, Pell was ensconced as Sydney archbishop and like many senior Catholics was heading to Canada to attend World Youth Day. The semi-regular event, a celebration of young people in the Catholic Church, sees huge numbers of the flock given the opportunity to take part in a mass with the Pope.
In 2008, the event would come to Sydney, hosted by Pell himself.
Six years earlier, at Toronto’s World Youth Day, Pell was addressing a group of delegates on a range of issues, Canada’s The Globe and Mailnewspaper reported.
A Kentucky youth minister has asked Pell how Catholics should react when faced with questions about the sexual abuse crisis that, even then, was enveloping the Church.
Pell replied that: “Abortion is a worse moral scandal than priests sexually abusing young people.”
When asked to clarify his position, Pell dug in saying: “Because (abortion) is always a destruction of human life.”
The comments caused an uproar. At the time Hetty Johnston, who founded the Bravehearts child protection organisation, said Pell’s comments were “ghastly, appalling”.
“The Church just doesn’t understand the seriousness of the whole issue of sexual abuse of children,” The Sydney Morning Herald reported her as saying.
“Children’s lives are still being sacrificed in the name of the Church’s ignorance.”
On his return to Australia, Pell insisted he had no wish to downplay sexual abuse in the Church but said other moral issues were getting far less attention.
“I … mentioned that the Church is being attacked for (sex abuse) sometimes by elements that are a bit anti-Christian.
“There are other scandals, such as abortion which are under-reported and because abortion destroys innocent life you could say it’s a worse scandal.”
Asked by The Sydney Morning Herald what he would say to the families of people who had taken their own lives following sexual abuse, Pell said: “There’s not too many of those,” and added that it was nonetheless “terrible”.
He said he had condemned sexual abuse on numerous occasions.
Then Opposition leader Simon Crean condemned Pell’s comments: “Sexual abuse of children is one of the most repugnant and serious of crimes which can never be condoned, excused or reduced in severity by comparison to some other act.”
It has not been Pell’s only ill-advised outburst. The 77-year-old has often found himself criticised for his strident remarks, particularly those that seemingly sought to minimise sexual abuse.
Despite Pell holding a senior position in the diocese where Ridsdale worked, he seemed uninterested in the allegations against him.
Ridsdale is currently serving a lengthy jail term after being convicted of sexually abusing and indecently assaulting 65 children — some as young as four.
“I don’t know whether it was common knowledge or not. It’s a sad story but it wasn’t of much interest to me,” Pell said.
Asked to expand on why he would be uninterested, he said: “The suffering, of course, was real and I very much regret that, but I had no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evil that Ridsdale had perpetrated.”
On one occasion Pell accompanied his friend to court. He later said this was a “mistake”.
COMPARING PRIESTS TO TRUCKERS
In 2014, Pell caused another furore when tried to persuade the royal commission that the Church wasn’t culpable for the sex scandals engulfing it any more than a trucking company was for the actions of its staff.
“If the truck driver picks up some lady and then molests her, I don’t think it’s appropriate, because it is contrary to the policy, for the ownership, the leadership of that company to be held responsible,” he said.