June 2, 2015 / 8:12 PM / 4 years ago

Vatican abuse commission keeps distance in row over Australian cardinal

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - A Vatican commission on sex abuse distanced itself on Tuesday from criticisms lodged by one of its members against an Australian cardinal but urged Church leaders to move swiftly to achieve justice for victims.

Australian Cardinal George Pell arrives for a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican March 6, 2013. REUTERS/Tony Gentile

Commission member Peter Saunders of Britain said two days ago on Australian television that Cardinal George Pell should be dismissed over allegations he failed to take action to protect children years ago.

Pell, now in charge of reforming the Vatican’s economic departments, has called Saunders’s comments “false”, “misleading” and “outrageous”, and said he would consult legal advisers.

Tuesday’s statement by the 17-member Vatican commission, which is advising the pope on how to root out sex abuse in the Church, said it “has no jurisdiction to comment on individual cases or inquiries”.

In the television program, Saunders said Pell should be “moved aside” and sent back to Australia to address a government inquiry on sexual abuse, which confirmed on Monday that it would ask Pell to testify.

Pell has said he supports the work of the Australian inquiry, where he has appeared twice, and that he is willing to assist in its work.

The Vatican commission said it was “essential that those in positions of authority in the Church respond promptly, transparently and with the clear intent of enabling justice to be achieved”.

Australia’s inquiry has focused in recent weeks on the rural town of Ballarat, in the state of Victoria, where Pell was a priest in the 1970s. Pell said the inquiry’s recent hearings there had raised old allegations of which he had already been cleared.

Saunders, speaking on Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes Australia program, said of Pell: “He is making a mockery of the papal commission (into child abuse), of the pope himself, but most of all of the victims and the survivors.”

“He has a catalog of denigrating people, of acting with callousness, cold-heartedness, almost sociopathic I would go as far as to say, this lack of care,” said Saunders, a Briton who was himself a victim of abuse.

In a statement published by the network on his behalf, Pell said he had always taken a strong stand against child abuse. He has denied moving priests accused of abuse between parishes or offering one victim inducements to drop a complaint.

Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Ruth Pitchford

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