According to the Royal Commission, George Pell knew of repeated instances of child sexual abuse and opted to protect those responsible.
According to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, George Pell was aware of child abuse within the Catholic Church for decades – and “considered measures of avoiding situations that might provoke gossip”.
The above statement was pulled from redacted parts of the Royal Commission released this morning. The commission also rejected Pell’s claims that he had been deceived and lied to by Church officials about Australia’s most notable paedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, and Melbourne parish priest Peter Searson.
“We are satisfied that in 1973, Father Pell turned his mind to the prudence of Ridsdale taking boys on overnight camps,” the report said.
“The most likely reason for this, as Cardinal Pell acknowledged, was the possibility that if priests were one-on-one with a child, then they could sexually abuse a child, or at least provoke gossip about such a prospect.”
Ridsdale was eventually convicted of abusing more than 60 boys over three decades.
According to the commission, Pell (who at the time, was an adviser to Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns) knew of Ridsdale’s abuse, and was the primary reason why the priest was moved elsewhere.
“We are satisfied Bishop Mulkearns gave reasons for it being necessary to move Ridsdale. We are satisfied that he referred to homosexuality at the meeting, in the context of giving reasons for Ridsdale’s move,” it said.
“However, we are not satisfied that Bishop Mulkearns left the explanation there, as Cardinal Pell said there would have been a discussion.
“Cardinal Pell gave evidence that the bishop did not give the true reason for moving Ridsdale – namely his sexual activity with children – and that the bishop lied in not giving the true reason to the consulters. We do not accept that Bishop Mulkearns lied to his consultors.”
In 1989, Pell’s inaction over Father Searson stands out, as Pell didn’t dismiss or suspend the priest after a group of teachers alerted him to allegations of abuse.
“These matters, in combination with the prior allegation of sexual misconduct, ought to have indicated to Bishop Pell that Father Searson needed to be stood down,” the report said.
“On the basis of what was known to Bishop Pell in 1989, we found that it ought to have been obvious to him at the time.”
Father Searson died without facing charges. Nevertheless, the commission heard he abused children in parishes and schools in three districts over a decade.