George Pell Presumed Paedophile Teacher Would Get "Help', He Tells Royal Commission
By Ben Doherty
March 2, 2016
Cardinal George Pell knew a paedophile teacher was moved to a new school because he was allegedly abusing children but did not tell church authorities or the police because he presumed the teacher would receive “help” to stop him reoffending.
Brother Ted Dowlan, a member of the Christian Brothers order, was removed from St Patrick’s College in 1974 after he admitted abusing boys under his care. He went on to abuse children at at least another four schools over another 14 years. Dowlan has since been jailed twice for abusing children, in 1996 and again last year.
At the time of Dowlan’s offending in the 1970s, Pell was the episcopal vicar for education in the diocese of Ballarat – the bishop’s representative in all areas of education.
Pell told the royal commission into institutional responses into child sexual abuse on Wednesday he knew in 1974 that Dowlan was alleged to have sexually abused children but he did not seek information on the exact nature of Dowlan’s offending, nor did he tell the bishop of the diocese, or the police, of the offending.
“I would say that in light of my present understandings, I would concede I should have done more,” Pell told the commission.
Pell said he understood the allegations against Dowlan were “over sexual activity in relation to young people” as well as possible excessive discipline or violence.
“I can’t remember in any detail except that there were unfortunate rumours about his activity with young people. It was always vague and unspecific.”
Dowlan was moved at the end of 1974 from St Patrick’s College. He went on to abuse boys at Warnambool Christian Brothers College, Chanel College, Geelong, and Cathedral College, East Melbourne.
“My whole assumption … was that the [Christian] Brothers would be dealing adequately with the matter,” Pell said. “I was not aware then ... of their poor record – while I learned about later – in dealing with such things. I presumed that when they shifted him, they would have also arranged for some appropriate help.”
When asked if he felt any responsibility to inform the bishop about the allegations of abuse, Pell responded: “No, I didn’t. I certainly would not have presumed that he definitely would not have known, but anyhow, I didn’t. I regret that I didn’t do more at that stage.”
Dowlan, who changed his surname to Bales in 2011, was jailed in 1996 for six and a half years for abusing 11 boys between 1971 and 1982.
In 2015 he was jailed again, for eight years and five months – with a five-year non-parole period – after pleading guilty to 34 charges of indecent assault and gross indecency, for abusing 20 young boys in the 1970s and 80s at a succession of Christian Brothers schools. His youngest victim was eight years old.
Pell’s incuriosity and inaction over Dowlan reflects the silo structure of the Catholic church. Pell was an ordained priest and episcopal vicar for education within the diocese of Ballarat: the Christian Brothers was a separate order. While geographically they worked in the same area, they were separate church authorities.
Pell told the commission he believed the Christian Brothers held responsibility for addressing allegations of Dowlan’s offending.
A former St Patrick’s student, Timothy Green, has previously told the commission he was 12 or 13 in 1974 when he told Pell that Dowlan was abusing boys. “Father Pell said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ and walked out,” Green told the commission.
On Wednesday Pell said he did not remember any meeting with Green. “I’m certainly not suggesting Mr Green is telling lies but I am suggesting that I have no such recollection.”
In later evidence the royal commission turned its attention to Father Peter Searson, a parish priest at Doveton who was accused of sexually and physically assaulting children in the 80s. Pell was an auxiliary bishop of Melbourne from 1987.
The commission heard that Searson had behaved outrageously towards children: pointing a handgun at a child; holding a knife to the chest of a young girl and threatening it would “go through her”; showing children a dead body; torturing a cat and stabbing to death a bird in front of children; loitering in children’s toilets; and forcing children to kneel between his legs to say confession.
Teachers refused to send children to see Searson and tried to ensure children were never alone with him.
Searson, who has since died, pleaded guilty to physically assaulting an altar boy but an internal church investigation also found him guilty of sexual abuse of children.
In 1989 a delegation of parents presented a list of concerns over Searson to Pell at a specially convened meeting. Pell recalled the meeting and said he had sought advice from church authorities in how he should best handle Searson.
“I don’t think I was obliged to do anything more than I did, because I took it to the archbishop and asked what should be done,” Pell said. “In retrospect, I might have been a bit more pushy with all the parties involved.”
Pell said the Catholic Education Office had lied to him over complaints about Searson and covered up the extent of his offending.
The commission chair, Justice Peter McClellan, was incredulous that the Catholic Education Office had lied to an auxiliary bishop of the church to shield the paedophile, and to protect the then Archbishop of Melbourne, Frank Little, whom Pell criticised for failing to act decisively to stop paedophiles from acting with impunity within the church.
“It makes no sense at all for the education office to want to cover up to you, does it?” McClellan asked.
Pell said the Catholic Education Office was “fearful … that I would have asked all sorts of inconvenient questions if I had been better briefed”.
Gail Furness SC, counsel assisting the royal commission, described Pell’s as “an extraordinary position”.
Pell’s evidence from Rome – he received dispensation to appear before the commission by videolink after Vatican doctors ruled he was too ill to fly – has brought the issue of child sexual abuse by priests to the doors of the Vatican again.
Italian media – including the vaticanisti, specialist Catholic church reporters – have reported widely on Pell’s evidence.
Corriere della Sera quoted Pell as conceding the church had “committed many great errors … [it] caused serious harm in many places and disappointed the faithful”.
Il Post noted the intense international media interest in Pell’s appearance before the commission.
Survivors of abuse who are now in Rome to watch Pell’s evidence have requested a meeting with Pope Francis over the church’s inaction over abuse and its shielding of paedophiles in the clergy.
Pell is prefect of the secretariat for the economy in the Vatican, essentially the church’s treasurer, and is widely reported to be the third most powerful man in the Catholic church. Pell disputes he is the third-ranking church executive, describing himself as a “senior official in the Roman Curia”.
Pell met with the pope on Monday and told reporters he had Francis’s “full backing”.