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Royal commission: George Pell's health at risk if he travels to give evidence, inquiry hears

The  Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been told Cardinal George Pell's health could be at risk if he travelled to Australia to give evidence.

His doctors in Rome had advised against a long-haul flight as it would present a "serious risk to his health".

Cardinal Pell at the Vatican.
Cardinal Pell at the Vatican. Photo: AP

Their two-page medical report was tendered to the commission. But the full contents remain confidential at present.

Allan Myers, QC, representing the Cardinal, said the medical report should not be released because it would prompt media speculation and there was no public interest to be served.

However, lawyers representing people who have given evidence of child abuse against various Catholic religious orders and individuals asked that the full medical report be disclosed.

In Melbourne, Paul Dwyer, on behalf of two alleged victims, said many people had been required to reveal their most intimate details to the commission and Cardinal Pell should be treated no differently.

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And after being permitted to read the medical report Mr Dwyer told commission chair Justice Peter McClellan there was no reason to keep it confidential as it simply showed health problems normally associated with "a man of the Cardinal's age".

Mr Myers said Cardinal Pell wished to give video evidence from Rome, saying he wanted to do so as soon as possible in the interest of victims.

"The Cardinal's view is that it's very important that he give his evidence as soon as may be, while the evidence of others is fresh, and he certainly wants to avoid the appearance that he's unwilling to give evidence," Mr Myers told the inquiry.

Ballarat-born Cardinal Pell, chief financial adviser to the Vatican and the third most powerful man in the Catholic Church, has been called to give evidence to the commission for the third time to answer allegations he was complicit in widespread church cover-up.

The commission has heard from child abuse victim David Ridsdale that Cardinal Pell tried to bribe him to keep quiet.

It was also alleged that Cardinal Pell was involved in a decision to move Mr Ridsdale's abuser, his uncle Father Gerald Ridsdale, between parishes once the abuse came to light. The Cardinal, 74, was expected to return to Melbourne from the Vatican in December but pulled out on the back of medical advice.

The commission is due to begin hearings in Ballarat on February 22 into allegations concerning Christian Brothers.

Mr Myers said Cardinal Pell would make himself available by video link to give evidence to the Ballarat sittings.

The commission has experienced difficulties with video evidence in the past – even on Friday morning, the video link to Melbourne was not working while the chair Justice Peter McClellan took directions – and concerns were expressed about the problems associated with running a hearing in one time zone and a witness giving evidence in a time zone that was 10 hours behind.

Justice McClellan envisaged that if Cardinal Pell did fly to Australia he would give evidence in Sydney from February 29.

He said he would make his ruling on Cardinal Pell's application and whether or not to make the medical report public on Monday.