George Pell : 'It was an extraordinary world of crimes and cover ups'
By Amanda Banks
March 02, 2016
|Cardinal Pell faces day three of the Royal Commission into child sex abuse. |
|Peter Blenkiron wears a T-shirt showing him at the age in which he was abused.|
|Phil Nagle, left, member of the group of relatives and victims of church sex abuses, arrives at the Quirinale hotel in Rome.|
Cardinal George Pell has described an "extraordinary world" of "crimes and cover ups" in which he was repeatedly deceived by fellow clergymen and the Catholic Education Office over the sex abuse of children.
Giving a third day of evidence to the royal commission into child abuse, Australia's most prominent Catholic again rejected suggestions that his explanation for failing to take appropriate action in response to allegations was implausible.
He has also denied a suggestion by counsel assisting the inquiry, Gail Furness, that his evidence was designed to deflect blame away from himself.
Today's hearing has turned its focus to Cardinal Pell's position as the auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Melbourne from 1987.
DAY ONE: Church gave paedophile free rein to abuse
DAY TWO: Pell's evidence 'implausible'
Bishop Mulkearns to be recalled to Royal Commission
He has been questioned about a litany of complaints made against notorious paedophile Father Peter Searson, who died in 2009.
Cardinal Pell, who is giving evidence to the Sydney hearing from Rome, acknowledged that a meeting of the delegation had been given an outline of complaints about Searson in 1989.
But he said the Catholic Education Office had deceived him by failing to give him a proper briefing on the detail and extent of complaints against Searson.
Commission chairman Justice Peter McLellan put to Cardinal Pell that the Catholic Education Office had in fact told him all they knew about Searson's abuse of children and it made no sense for the office to want to conceal the information.
Cardinal Pell said he had made it clear that was not the case.
He said he had sought the advice of the then archbishop on the matter, but he had again been deceived by a lack of information.
Yesterday, Cardinal Pell gave a similar explanation of deception and being given inadequate information about serial paedophile Gerald Ridsdale during his time in Ballarat in the 1970s and 1980s.
Today, he accepted that his evidence was that in both cases there had been a cover up and lies through deceit.
Ms Furness suggested his explanations were "completely implausible" and his position was "extraordinary".
"Counsel, this was an extraordinary world," Cardinal Pell said.
"A world of crimes and cover ups. People did not want the status quo to be disturbed.
"I not only disturbed the status quo, but when I became archbishop I turned he situation right around.
"The Melbourne Response procedures were light years ahead of all this obfuscation and prevarication and deception."
I SHOULD HAVE DONE MORE
Earlier today, Cardinal Pell expressed his regret for not doing more when he heard "unfortunate rumours" of sexual abuse and physical violence being perpetrated by a Christian Brother in the Ballarat region in the early 1970s.
Cardinal Pell said he had been approached by two students at St Patrick's College in Ballarat who raised issues relating to Brother Edward Dowlan.
In a short break of the hearing, Australian victims of child sex abuse who travelled to Rome to watch Cardinal Pell's evidence said they had requested a meeting with Pope Francis.
Philip Nagle told reporters survivors wanted a commitment that the child abuse would never happen again and children would be safe.
Mr Nagle said victims were tiring of Cardinal Pell's evidence and the former archbishop of Melbourne and Sydney was "giving us nothing."
"He has turned his back on us, we don't want to meet with (Cardinal Pell) at all," Mr Nagle said.
Cardinal Pell told the hearing this morning that he had discussed the matter of Dowlan with Father Brendan Davies.
But after being assured that the Christian Brothers were dealing with the issue, he had taken it no further.
He later learnt that Dowlan, who has been convicted of sex offences against more than 30 boys, had been transferred to another parish in about late 1974.
"There were rumours, it was always vague and non-specific," Cardinal Pell told the commission on a video link from Rome.
"In light of my present understanding...I would concede I should have done more.
"I regret that I did not do more on that subject."
Questioned by commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan, Cardinal Pell said he was not concerned about Dowlan's transfer.
"More than 40 years ago....I did not think that was unusual or inappropriate," Cardinal Pell told the commission hearing in Sydney.
"I was not aware then of their (the Christian Brothers) poor record in dealing with such things."
"I presumed that when they shifted him they would also have arranged for some appropriate help."
Dowlan went on to have a long career in Christian Brother schools.
In 1996 he was convicted of 16 counts of indecent assault committed against 11 boys at four different Christian Brother schools.
In 2015, Dowlan was convicted of 33 counts of indecent assault and one count of gross indecency committed against 20 boys.
Cardinal Pell says his predecessor as Melbourne archbishop did not act on child abuse when he should have.
He said he was strongly critical of and deeply disturbed by what came out about the handling of complaints by Frank Little, who was Archbishop of Melbourne from 1974 to 1996.
“Archbishop Little on some occasions did not act when he should have and certainly did not make appropriate information available to the personnel advisory board on some occasions,” Cardinal Pell told the commission.
Cardinal Pell said Bishop Little had a “blind spot” when it came to handling complaints about sexual abuse by priests.
The bishop did not reveal there was a long list of complaints about one priest, when Cardinal Pell had sought advice when he was auxiliary bishop in the Melbourne archdiocese in the 1980s.
Cardinal Pell is being questioned about what he knew of pedophile priests operating in Ballarat and Melbourne when he served there in the 1970s and 1980s.
Cardinal Pell said he heard sexual misconduct allegations against Searson before he met with a delegation of teachers.
But Cardinal Pell said he was deceived by the Catholic Education Office about complaints involving the Doveton parish priest.
“I asked the education office and took their word that they had been dealt with appropriately,” Cardinal Pell said.
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.
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 agreed that 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.”
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.”
Commissioner Peter McClellan asked Cardinal Pell if he could give any reason why the education office “would choose to deceive you in relation to Searson’s behaviour?”.
“Yes, I was a new boy on the block,” Cardinal Pell told the commision on Wednesday via an audio visual link from Rome.
“I was known to be capable of being outspoken.
“They might have been fearful of just what line I would take when confronted with all the information.”