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Pell was "in the loop" on abuse complaints

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Cardinal George Pell was “in the loop” over serious complaints about pedophile priest Peter Searson after worried parents wrote to education authorities, the child abuse royal commission has heard.

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Cardinal Pell before the commission

Pell said he would have been aware of concerns raised by parents from the Victorian parish of Doveton in a 1991 letter to the Catholic Education Office that said Searson was going into the boys’ toilets, watching boys in the shower and taking children into the presbytery without permission.

He said he did not investigate the matter because it was the responsibility of the CEO and the Vicar General.

“If they’d asked my opinion I would have given it,” he said.

He agreed that he was “in the loop as far as knowledge of Father Searson being a risk to children” but said the issue was the level of risk and “just what could be done within church and state law”.

Commissioner Peter McClellan said the allegations in the letter were “extraordinary” and occurred in a school for which Pell, as an auxiliary bishop in the Melbourne diocese, had responsibility.

McClellan asked Pell if he had responsibility to ensure the problems were investigated, regardless of who had formal authority.

Pell said there was an investigation by the CEO and by lawyers and he was “satisfied that the matter was in hand”.

On his fourth day of evidence to the commission via videolink from Rome, Pell said he regretted his choice of words when he described offending by pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale as a “sad story” that “wasn’t of much interest” to him.

Pell said he always felt sorry for Ridsdale’s nephew David who was abused by his uncle.

When he was reminded by counsel for David Ridsdale that he had told the commission on Tuesday that he had “no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evils that Ridsdale had perpetrated”, the cardinal said he could not remember saying that.

He asked the context be explained and when it was said he had “messed up” the time sequence completely.

“I regret the choice of words. I was very confused, I responded poorly,” Pell said.

“Just previous to this exchange we were talking about `93, ’94. Then it swung over to the incidents in ’74, ’75. It was badly expressed.”

He said in 1993 he was a Melbourne official considering something that happened in Inglewood.

“I have never enjoyed reading the accounts of these sufferings and I tried to do that only when it was professionally and absolutely appropriate because the behaviour’s abhorrent and painful to read about.”

He said it was “completely untrue” that he didn’t have much interest in what David Ridsdale told him about the crimes of his uncle.

Pell said David Ridsdale had never claimed he denied his primary interest at the time was protecting the church.

AAP

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