Cardinal George Pell remembers Peter Searson, a 'disconcerting, unpleasant man'

By Nick Alexander
9 News
March 1, 2016

[with video]

Cardinal Pell has conceded a former Archbishop of Melbourne had a "blind spot" when it came to a gun-toting pedophile priest who made children kneel between his legs during confession.

The church failed to remove Doveton parish priest Peter Searson, whom Cardinal Pell described as a disconcerting man and a difficult customer, despite years of complaints.

Cardinal Pell said his predecessor as Melbourne archbishop Frank Little had a "blind spot" when it came to dealing with Searson.

"Archbishop Little for some reason seemed incapable or unable to deal with Fr Searson, or even to provide any adequate level of information about the situation," Cardinal Pell told the child abuse royal commission from Rome.

"Yes, one way of describing it is a blind spot."

There were complaints about Searson's strange behaviour while he was at Sunbury between 1977 and 1984 and many more after he was moved to Doveton, where he remained until 1997.

March 02, 2016: The gloves have come off during an exchange between Counsel Assisting Gail Furness and Cardinal George Pell, with Furness calling his comments about his exchange with the archbishop as “complete implausible”

Cardinal Pell was responsible for Melbourne's southern region, which included Doveton, as an auxiliary bishop from 1987 until he became Melbourne archbishop in 1996.

Cardinal Pell has admitted to having "non-specific" knowledge of complaints made against Searson, who was allowed to abuse children at the parishes.

But the Cardinal also described the church's inaction on Searson, who Dr Pell described as one of the most "disconcerting and unpleasant" priests he has ever met, as "plainly inadequate".

The turn of phrase was quickly seized upon by Gail Furness SC.

"What was inadequate in relation to your conduct?" Ms Furness asked.

"I'm sorry didn't mean to say any such thing," the Cardinal replied, after a long silence.

"I don't think I was obliged to do anything more than I did, because I took it to the Archbishop."

March 02, 2016: When questioned on how he sought advice about allegations against Father Peter Searson, Cardinal George Pell first said he thought his actions were “adequate” but then called it “plainly inadequate” before dismissing the comment.

When asked why he had not done anything to end Searson's career, Cardinal Pell said that his colleagues, including the archbishop "would have been fearful that I would (take decisive action) and concerned that I would have asked all sorts of inconvenient questions."

Cardinal Pell agreed a 1984 complaint to Archbishop Little about Searson pointing a handgun at people suggested he was unsuitable to be a parish priest.

"Given that this came after the Sunbury matters, I think it's extraordinary that at the very least there was no official inquiry," he said.

Cardinal Pell said a 1985 complaint about Searson making children kneel between his legs during confession and recording their confessions should have been investigated.

"Just what that meant would have had to have been established by an inquiry but it is abhorrent and something certainly to be investigated," he said.

"If he was using the tape recorder to record the confessions, that is sacrilegious."

March 02, 2016: TODAY show host Karl Stefanovic voiced his concerns over Cardinal George Pell’s denial of any knowledge of Gerald Ridsdale sexually abusing children in the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Pell said the priest should have been stood down and immediately investigated including after a parent raised concerns about a sexual advance by the priest on their daughter in 1985.

A teacher was so concerned she would not let her children be alone with Searson, the commission heard.

Cardinal Pell described Searson as a disconcerting man.

"In fact at his worst moments he could be described as one of the most unpleasant priests that I've met, although he didn't show that side of his personality to me very often.

"But I quickly learned that he was a difficult customer."

The commission has heard Archbishop Little, who died in 2008, had the power to do something about Searson but did nothing for years despite complaints about the priest's strange behaviour and improper sexual conduct with children.

The hearing continues.


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