Clergy abuse victims have been left reeling again with uncertainty surrounding whether Cardinal George Pell will appear at a child sex abuse inquiry in the city this month.
A lawyer representing Cardinal Pell, Allan Myers, made an application for the cardinal to give evidence at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Ballarat on Friday via video link from Rome rather than appear in person, citing health reasons.
A two-page medical report was handed up to support the application a flight to Australia from Rome could pose a serious risk to his health.
David Ridsdale, victim and nephew of disgraced priest Gerald Ridsdale, said there was a “mental health emergency” in Ballarat and victims had been thrown into limbo again, only adding to their turmoil.
"If a fire ripped through Ballarat and burnt down 20 per cent of houses it would be deemed an emergency and a fund would be set up to help everybody involved,” he said.
"Yet this process has affected so many people in Ballarat and they continue to be hugely at risk of hurting themselves or others. It frustrates the hell out of me that here are a lack of resources, that there are is a lack of support, case workers and health services in this city. All the signs and figures point to suicides increasing, to premature deaths, crime... because people here are so damaged and they can't get the help they need.”
At the request of Cardinal Pell’s lawyers Mr Ridsdale flew from his home in London to Australia in December to be cross-examined on claims he made the senior Vatican official tried to bribe him to keep him quiet.
Mr Ridsdale said he had put himself at financial risk awaiting the outcome of Cardinal Pell’s evidence and been separated from his partner in London for months no indication given on when he can return.
“All we want from them (clergy) is what we have given and that is simply the truth,” he said.
“Survivors have led this for too long. Our social leaders need to act now. Ballarat needs to become the benchmark for the rest of the world in dealing with this type of abuse.”
It frustrates the hell out of me that here are a lack of resources, that there are is a lack of support, case workers and health services in this city. All the signs and figures point to suicides increasing, to premature deaths, crime... because people here are so damaged and they can't get the help they need.
Centre Against Sexual Assault Ballarat manager Shireen Gunn said demand for all programs had soared since the Royal Commission hearings last year. She said funding and support was urgently needed.
"Any activity like this around royal commission raises the stress levels of those directly impacted because it can trigger them and increase their anxiety,”she said.
“They’re often left wondering what is going to happen. It’s the uncertainty of it all."
Survivor Peter Blenkiron questioned the lack of transparency surrounding Cardinal Pell’s health records when victims had been forced to relive their pain while giving their own evidence.
"Where were the questions from lawyers asking how long he has had the condition?" he said. “He has one letter from an Italian doctor ... where is the second opinion? You can't tell me that someone in the Vatican hasn't got a vested interest. "Where was the scrutiny the survivors had to undergo? Why can’t he come by boat? If he needs a rest let him go by a cruise, he could be rested up by the time he gets here."
Mr Blenkiron said some of his hope had been “rekindled” after he spent time with school principals on Friday working towards helping with the healing process moving forward.
Former Bishop of Ballarat Ronald Mulkearns is willing to give evidence to the commission, the hearing also heard.
David Grace QC, acting for the bishop, said his client had colon cancer, was frail and in chronic pain and had a life expectancy of months.
Advice from his doctors recommended he did not attend court but the inquiry heard he wanted give his testimony via video link.
The inquiry heard Bishop Mulkearns would only be able to give an hour at a time and would require a few days rest in between giving each piece of evidence.
Justice McClellan will announce a decision on both applications on Monday.
The next hearing will be held in Ballarat on February 22.
Ballarat Centre Against Sexual Assault 5320 3933
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