Cardinal Pell knew of clergy abuse for decades: inquiry

Cardinal George Pell leaves the County Court of Victoria court in February after prosecutors decided not to proceed with a second trial in Melbourne.
Cardinal George Pell leaves the County Court of Victoria court in February after prosecutors decided not to proceed with a second trial in Melbourne.
Image: AFP / CON CHRONIS

Cardinal George Pell was aware of child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Australia as far back as the 1970s and failed to seek the removal of accused priests, according to findings of a top-level inquiry released on Thursday.

The Royal Commission report was handed down in 2017 but pages relating to Pell's conduct were heavily redacted to prevent jurors in his trials on child sex abuse allegations from being prejudiced.

Australia's High Court last month acquitted the former Vatican treasurer of all charges and freed him from jail, allowing the release of findings relating to Pell from the Royal Commission into institutional child sex abuse.

The commission found that Pell, when he was a priest in the rural diocese of Ballarat in Victoria state, had begun considering in 1973 the "prudence" of now-jailed child sex abuser Gerald Ridsdale taking boys on overnight camping trips.

"By this time, child sexual abuse was on his radar," the commission said.

"We are also satisfied that by 1973 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."

The commission found it was "likely that he knew of Ridsdale's sexual transgressions" when Pell joined a meeting about moving the priest to another parish in 1977.

Pell, who lived with Ridsdale in 1973 and supported him at his first court appearance in 1993, has insisted he had no memory of claims of sustained mistreatment in Ballarat.

In a statement Thursday, Pell said he was "surprised by some of the views of the Royal Commission".

"These views are not supported by evidence," he said.

Pell added that attendees of the 1977 meeting either learned of Ridsdale's offending "much later" or did not recall the discussions.

The commission also found that Pell should have sought the removal of another priest, Father Peter Searson, after receiving a list of complaints from a delegation of teachers in 1989 when Pell was auxiliary bishop in Melbourne.

Searson was the subject of "numerous" complaints between the 1970s and 1990s including child sexual abuse and his "unpleasant, strange, aggressive and violent conduct", the commission said.

Though Pell conceded to the inquiry that he could have been "a bit more pushy" in recommending a course of action to the archbishop, the commission found it had been "incumbent on Pell" to act in 1989 but he did not stand down Searson until 1997. - AFP

X