SYDNEY, Australia – A Roman Catholic archbishop said Sunday he offered $28,000 to buy a family's silence about the alleged sexual abuse of its children by a local priest.
The Nine television network's 60 Minutes program said the offer by Sydney Archbishop George Pell, the church's most senior clergyman in Australia, was made to a family who claimed their two girls were sexually abused for six years by a local priest beginning in 1987.
The youngest girl was 5 at the time the abuse began, the family said.
The girls' parents, who appeared on camera and were identified only as Elizabeth and Garry, told the program they met with Pell, who was an auxiliary bishop in their area at the time.
They later received a letter from Pell's lawyers saying they could either take the money as compensation for the alleged abuse of their oldest daughter or take the matter to court, where it would be ``strenuously defended'' by the church.
Pell initially told the program he had not offered the parents any money.
``I offered them nothing,'' he said.
But after being shown the letter, Pell corrected himself.
``I offered them 50 grand (Australian dollars) in compensation according to the publicly acknowledged procedure,'' Pell said. ``They chose not to accept that.''
The date of the letter was not disclosed.
The accused priest was not identified and the program did not say whether he faced criminal charges for the alleged abuse.
The acknowledgment of the letter comes amid a crisis that has shaken the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, with revelations that priests sexually abused children and senior clergy tried to conceal incidents by moving known offenders to other parishes.
The U.S. scandal prompted an extraordinary meeting at the Vatican in April between Pope John Paul II and 12 of the 13 U.S. cardinals.
Bishops and priests worldwide also have been implicated in sexual abuse scandals.
The Australian program also said Pell, when he was an auxiliary bishop in the Ballarat diocese in Victoria state, tried to buy the silence of David Ridsdale, who was sexually abused by his uncle, the Rev. Gerald Ridsdale.
Gerald Ridsdale pleaded guilty in 1994 to 46 sexual assault charges and was sentenced to at least 15 years in prison.
David Ridsdale claimed that when he turned to Pell for help in early 1993, Pell told him: ``I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet.''
Pell said he may have offered to help David Ridsdale, but did not offer a bribe.
``I couldn't, would never have said that,'' Pell said. ``I had no capacity to offer him anything, anywhere. His recollection is wrong.''