Unredacted reports of the 2017 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, released yesterday, rejected Cardinal Pell’s evidence that he was deceived and lied to by Catholic Church officials about Australia’s worst pedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, and Melbourne parish priest Peter Searson.
The findings relate to Cardinal Pell’s knowledge of abuse allegations in the 1970s and 1980s, when he was a priest and bishop’s adviser in Ballarat and an auxiliary bishop and adviser to the archbishop in Melbourne.
The royal commission concluded Cardinal Pell knew Ballarat priest Gerald Ridsdale was moved between parishes because of sex abuse allegations and failed to push an archbishop to remove Melbourne priest Peter Searson.
It also rejected Cardinal Pell’s claim he was deceived by Catholic Church officials about the two priests.
The findings were redacted because in order to avoid prejudicing the trial of Cardinal Pell, who was then charged with child sexual abuse.
Yesterday, Cardinal Pell – the former Vatican treasurer – said he was surprised by some of the royal commission’s views about his actions.
“These views are not supported by evidence,” he said.
The royal commission findings were released after Pell was released from jail in April after serving more than 400 days, following the High Court overturning his convictions despite the failure of an earlier court appeal.
The commission found Cardinal Pell was aware of child sexual abuse by clergy in the early 1970s, after the former Melbourne and Sydney archbishop agreed it was “on his radar”.
The commission concluded Cardinal Pell likely knew of Ridsdale’s sexual transgressions at a 1977 meeting of Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns’ advisers, when he was a new consultor.
The commissioners rejected Cardinal Pell’s evidence that Bishop Mulkearns lied to the consultors in 1982 when Ridsdale was removed from Mortlake parish.
“Cardinal Pell’s evidence that ‘paedophilia was not mentioned’ and that the ‘true’ reason was not given is not accepted,” the report said.
Cardinal Pell said none of the consultors who gave evidence said they were made aware of Ridsdale’s offending at the 1977 and 1982 meetings.
The commission also rejected Cardinal Pell’s evidence he was deceived by Melbourne Catholic education officials, after a 1989 delegation of Doveton teachers complained to him about Searson.
The commission found he should have urged Melbourne Archbishop Frank Little to take action against Searson.
Cardinal Pell removed Searson after becoming archbishop in 1996.
Current Melbourne Archbishop Peter Comensoli again apologised for the archdiocese’s failure to protect children.
“While the passage of time can never obscure the systemic failings of leadership, process and culture of that period, the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne has acted upon the recommendations of the royal commission,” he said.
“Much has changed as a result.”
Current Ballarat Bishop Paul Bird said the diocese acknowledged the past failings that allowed the terrible abuse of so many children.
“The diocese also acknowledges the tragic consequences of that abuse to those abused and their families.”
A number of abuse survivors have taken civil action against the Melbourne archdiocese and Ballarat diocese.
“Sadly for a number of them while the findings will be deeply disappointing, including that the abuse they suffered was known and not acted on, it will be of little surprise,” Maurice Blackburn lawyer Michelle James said.
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