Cardinal George Pell REJECTS a royal commission finding that he knew about the sexual abuse of children by notorious paedophile priests
- Cardinal George Pell has rejected the findings of child abuse royal commission
- The commission found Pell must have known about complaints about priests
- Reports could only be made public after his child sex abuse convictions quashed
- Pell accused the commission of releasing findings ‘not supported by evidence’
- Statement said exonerated cardinal ‘was surprised’ by statements in findings
Cardinal George Pell has rejected the findings of a child abuse royal commission report which found he ‘ought to have’ acted on complaints about paedophiles within the Catholic Church.
In damning findings released on Thursday, the commission found Cardinal Pell must have known about complaints against priests in Ballarat and Melbourne in the 1970s and 1980s.
The commission concluded he knew of the abuse by paedophile priest Father Peter Searson and was aware priest Gerard Ridsdale had been moved between parishes by the church because he had sexually abused children.
The reports could only be made public after Pell’s child sex abuse convictions were quashed by the High Court last month.
Responding to the release of the unredacted reports, Pell accused the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s of releasing findings ‘not supported by evidence’.
Cardinal George Pell (pictured arriving at the Seminary of The Good Shepherd on April 8 after his child sex abuse convictions were quashed) has rejected the findings of a royal commission which found he ‘ought to have’ acted on complaints about a paedophile within the Catholic Church
‘Cardinal Pell said he was surprised by some of the views of the Royal Commission about his actions,’ the statement from the exonerated cardinal reads.
‘These views are not supported by evidence.’
‘He is especially surprised by the statements in the report about the earlier transfers of Gerald Ridsdale.’
The commission report published on Thursday morning said Father Searson was the subject of child sex abuse complaints and reports of ‘strange, aggressive and violent conduct’ over several years.
Searson died in 2009 without ever facing child sexual abuse charges, but the commission heard evidence he had abused children in three separate Victorian districts over the course of a decade.
Pell, as Archbishop of Melbourne, placed Searson on administrative leave in March 1997, the same year Searson pleaded guilty to physically assaulting a child.
The royal commission heard Father Peter Searson (above) – infamous for his long, yellow fingernails – abused children across three districts. It found that Pell ‘ought to’ at least push for an investigation into allegations against Searson
Blacked out: How the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse reports looked before the Government released the details on Thursday
A supplied screen-grab of paedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale from May 2015 giving evidence during the child sex abuse royal commission
But the commission said Pell ‘ought reasonably to have concluded that action needed to be taken in relation to Father Searson’ almost a decade earlier, in 1989, when he heard from seeing a delegation of teachers from a Catholic primary school in his role as a regional bishop.
The delegation of Doveton teachers told Pell about Searson harassing children, staff and parents, showing children a body in a coffin and animal cruelty.
At the royal commission, Pell had claimed the Catholic Education Office had failed to brief him properly on the complaints against Father Searson and that it was implied ‘that the allegations could not be sustained’.
CARDINAL PELL’S STATEMENT ON ROYAL COMMISSION FINDINGS
‘Cardinal Pell said he was surprised by some of the views of the Royal Commission about his actions.
These views are not supported by evidence.
He is especially surprised by the statements in the report about the earlier transfers of Gerald Ridsdale discussed by the Ballarat Diocesan Consultors in 1977 and 82.
The Consultors who gave evidence on the meetings in 1977 and 1982 either said they did not learn of Ridsdale’s offending against children until much later or they had no recollection of what was discussed.
None said they were made aware of Ridsdale’s offending at these meetings.
The then Fr Pell left the Diocese of Ballarat and therefore his position as a consultor at the end of 1984.
As an Auxiliary Bishop in Melbourne 1987-96, Bishop Pell met with a delegation from Doveton Parish in 1989 which did not mention sexual assaults and did not ask for Searson’s removal.
Appointed Archbishop of Melbourne on 16 August 1996, Archbishop Pell placed Fr Searson on administrative leave in March 1997 and removed him from the parish on 15 May 1997.’
Cardinal Pell claimed he might have been told ”in a non-specific way’ that ‘part of the story behind (school principal Graeme) Sleeman’s resignation was that he had raised complaints of sexual misconduct by Father Searson.’
Mr Sleeman resigned after a Grade 4 student was brought to him in ‘obvious distress’ after confession with Father Searson. Mr Sleeman had suspected a ‘sexual interference’ had occurred.
Pell with his one-time housemate, the paedophile priest Gerard Ridsdale
But the commission ruled Pell’s evidence he had been ‘deceived’ by the Catholic Education Office as they ‘did not tell him what they knew about Father Searson’s misbehaviour’ was ‘implausible’.
The report said: ‘We are satisfied that Cardinal Pell’s evidence as to the reasons that the CEO deceived him was implausible. We do not accept that Bishop Pell was deceived, intentionally or otherwise.
‘We are satisfied that, on the basis of the matters known to Bishop Pell on his own evidence (being the matters on the list of incidents and grievances and the ‘non-specific’ allegation of sexual misconduct), he ought reasonably to have concluded that action needed to be taken in relation to Father Searson.
‘It was incumbent on Bishop Pell, as an Auxiliary Bishop with responsibilities for the welfare of the children in the Catholic community of his region, to take such action as he could to advocate that Father Searson be removed or suspended or, at least, that a thorough investigation be undertaken of the allegations,’ the report said.
The report said ‘(Pell) had) conceded that, in retrospect, he might have been ‘a bit more pushy’ with all of the parties involved. We do not accept any qualification that this conclusion is only appreciable in retrospect.
‘On the basis of what was known to Bishop Pell in 1989, it ought to have been obvious to him at the time.
‘He should have advised the Archbishop to remove Father Searson and he did not do so.’
The commission also made findings about the church and Pell’s one-time housemate, the priest Gerard Ridsdale – one of Australia’s worst ever offenders.
The commission found that then-Father Pell had ‘turned his mind to the prudence of Ridsdale taking boys on overnight camps’ by 1973.
The report found by that year, ‘Cardinal Pell was not only conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy but that he also had considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it.’
Ridsdale was repeatedly moved between parishes by the 1971 to 1991 Ballarat Bishop Mulkearns, who knew about his offending, the commission found.
The commission rejected Cardinal Pell’s claim that Bishop Mulkearns lied to or deceived his advisers in 1982 when Ridsdale was removed from the parish of Mortlake, where the priest later admitted his behaviour was ‘out of control’.
Cardinal Pell gave evidence the bishop did not give the true reason for Ridsdale’s removal and lied by not doing so. But the commissioners did not accept that Bishop Mulkearns lied to his consultors and were satisfied he did not deceive his consultors.
THE SINS OF FATHER SEARSON
The commission found Pell may have known of a ‘non-specific’ allegation against Searson in 1989.
What Searson alleged to have done to others that few others would know is disturbing.
Over two years, the commission heard evidence Searson repeatedly sexually abused children.
He recorded confessions he found ‘hot’ and repeatedly assaulted sexually assaulted a nine-year-old girl in a confessional booth.
One victim claimed he was sexually abused most Saturdays for a six month period.
He swung a cat over a fence by its tail, killing it; murdered a bird with a screwdriver and showed children a dead body in a coffin.
The commission found Bishop Mulkearns told the advisers it was necessary to move Ridsdale from the diocese and from parish work because of complaints he had sexually abused children.
‘Cardinal Pell’s evidence that ‘paedophilia was not mentioned’ and that the ‘true’ reason was not given is not accepted,’ the commission’s said.
‘It is implausible … that Bishop Mulkearns did not inform those at the meeting of at least complaints of sexual abuse of children having been made.’
In a statement on Thursday evening, Cardinal Pell said he was ‘surprised’ by some of the views of the commission, claiming ‘these views are not supported by evidence’.
He said he was ‘especially surprised’ by statements relating to transfers of Gerald Ridsdale.
‘The consultors who gave evidence on the meetings in 1977 and 1982 either said they did not learn of Ridsdale’s offending against children until much later or they had no recollection of what was discussed. None said they were made aware of Ridsdale’s offending at these meetings.’
Pell said he met a delegation from Doveton Parish ‘which did not mention sexual assaults and did not ask for Searson’s removal’.
Following his release from prison, the former Vatican Treasurer said he did not expect negative findings against him.
‘I’d be very surprised if there’s any bad findings against me at all,’ he told commentator Andrew Bolt last month.
And the commission did find in Pell’s favour on some matters.
The commission ruled as unlikely claims Pell offered to bribe Gerard Ridsdale’s nephew, David, in 1993.
‘It is more likely that Mr Ridsdale misinterpreted an offer by Bishop Pell to assist as something more sinister,’ the report said.
Another witness claimed to have overheard Pell saying of Ridsdale: ‘Huh, huh, I think Gerry’s been rooting boys again’.
That was strongly denied by Pell and the commission found the witness likely ‘overheard the conversation, however, that conversation was not between the priests he nominated.’
Pell gave evidence to the royal commission twice, in 2014, in Sydney, and in 2016, via video link from Rome.
In 2016, Pell told the royal commission he was deceived about paedophile priests, describing it as a ‘world of crimes and cover-ups’.
Cardinal Pell was a Ballarat priest from 1973 until 1984, overseeing the diocese’s schools and at times acting as an adviser to the bishop.
He also served as one of the Melbourne archbishop’s advisers while an auxiliary bishop between 1987 and 1996.
WHY ROYAL COMMISSION REPORT IS ONLY BEING RELEASED NOW
The Royal Commission reports were first published in December 2017, months after Cardinal George Pell was charged with child sexual abuse offences.
Details relating to Pell’s knowledge and response to complaints against priests in the 70s and 80s were redacted so not to prejudice the legal process against him.
The Victorian government cleared the way for the secret details to be released after Pell’s convictions were overturned by the High Court last month.
State Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said: ‘The government is not aware of any impediments to the un-redacted versions of these reports being tabled and published at this time.’
The documents were tendered in Federal Parliament about 10am Thursday.
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