Cardinal says can meet Australian sex abuse victims in Rome

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Pope Francis' finance minister said Thursday that he is prepared to meet in Rome with Australian victims of clergy sex abuse who are angry the cardinal won't travel to Australia to testify at a government inquiry.

Cardinal George Pell, whom the pope placed in charge of the Vatican's finances in 2014, is to testify for a third time at Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

But the inquiry ruled two weeks ago that the 74-year-old cleric could give evidence by video from Rome on Feb. 29 because he was too ill to fly to Australia.

Many victims of sex abuse are angry that Australia's highest-ranking Roman Catholic will not give evidence in person. Australian musician and comedian Tim Minchin has recorded a hit song in which he insults Pell and urges him to return to Australia.

Crowd funding raised more than 170,000 Australian dollars ($120,000) this week to send abuse victims from Pell's hometown of Ballarat to Rome in the hope they can watch his testimony there.

Pell will cooperate with any arrangements the royal commission makes for where and how he gives evidence, his office said in a statement.

"As Cardinal Pell has done after earlier hearings, he is prepared to meet with and listen to victims and express his ongoing support," the statement said.

Pell is to give evidence about how church authorities responded to allegations of child sex abuse in Ballarat and in Melbourne, Australia's second-most populous city after Sydney.

Pell is accused of creating a victims' compensation program mainly to protect the church's assets and of using aggressive tactics to discourage victims' lawsuits, all while he was a bishop in Australia.

Pell also faces accusations from earlier in his career, when he was a Ballarat priest and auxiliary bishop and not in the ultimate position of authority, that he ignored warnings about an abusive teacher, attempted to bribe the victim of a pedophile priest to stay silent and was part of a committee that moved that priest from parish to parish.

Pell denies any wrongdoing and defends his record on confronting the abuse scandal as archbishop of Melbourne, and later of Sydney.

Pell said in a statement that his doctors say he should not take long-distance trips. A medical report said Pell suffers from hypertension, and from heart problems related to hypertension and ischemia.