An Australian crowdfunding campaign which will send victims of child sex abuse to Rome to hear Vatican Finance Chief, George Pell, give evidence to an Australian inquiry that has gained overwhelming support, doubling its target in two ways.
Cardinal Pell, the former top Catholic official in Australia, is too ill to travel to the Victorian state town of Ballarat to appear in person at a Royal Commission and will present evidence through a video-link from Rome later this month.
"The survivors of Ballarat and District child abuse feel the face-to-face hearing was important for healing and understanding," campaigners wrote on their GoFundMe page.
"With the news that Cardinal Pell could not come here, it seems appropriate to get the survivors to Rome to sit in front of Pell as he gives evidence," they said.
Pell has always said that he does not know of any child abuse occurring in Ballarat, including one committed by paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale who abused dozens of children over two decades.
The survivors group expected to raise Aus$55,000 (US$39,110) to send 15 people to Rome when they launched their campaign this week, but they surpassed their expectation on Wednesday by raising more than Aus$111,000 and donations are still coming in.
Spokesman for the Ballarat and District Survivors Group, Andrew Collins, said that the public’s response was incredible and humbling.
"It's not so much just to look him in the eyes; it's to be a part of that process, to make sure that due process is afforded to everybody," Collins told Australian media.
"We had to give evidence standing in front of the whole courtroom type scenario. We didn't get to give it in private," he added.
Collins also said that submitting his own evidence of abuse to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was harrowing.
"Some of the guys couldn't do it. You know, they struggled; they broke down," Collins said.
Australia’s senior Catholic clergy described Pell last year as a "man of integrity who is committed to helping others," throwing their support behind him.
However, the hearings at the Royal Commission revealed claims that Pell attempted to bribe one of Ridsdale’s victims, to keep him quiet.
Pell, who accompanied Ridsdale to court in 1993 when he admitted widespread abuse, has repeatedly denied knowing about any of the offences, helping move the priest to another parish or that he tried to buy anyone's silence.
After a decade of pressure, the commission was called to investigate wide-ranging allegations of paedophilia in Australia, and has heard harrowing claims of child abuse involving places of worship, orphanages, community groups and schools.
Pell previously gave evidence, in person, in March 2014.
Among those supporting the crowdfunding campaign is Australian singer-songwriter Tim Minchin, who has written the single "Come home", the proceeds of which will go towards the campaign.