George Pell regrets not doing more to protect children: Royal Commission

By Rachel Browne
Sydney Morning Herald
March 02, 2016

Cardinal Pell arrives at the hearing in Rome.
Photo by Marco Di Lauro

[with video]

Cardinal George Pell regrets not doing more to protect young boys from a paedophile Christian Brother working at a Catholic school in Ballarat in the 1970s, a royal commission has heard.

In the third day of his testimony, Cardinal Pell admitted he had heard about "problems" at St Patrick's College from one or two students.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has heard the "problems" related to Brother Edward Dowlan​, who was later convicted of multiple sexual offences against boys between 1971 and 1986.

Cardinal Pell told the commission he spoke to the school chaplain about Dowlan but took no further action.

"In the light of my present understandings, I concede I should have done more . . . just ensured the matter was properly treated," he said.

When asked by counsel assisting the royal commission Gail Furness SC, why didn't make further investigations he replied: "One, I didn't think of it and when I was told that (the Christian Brothers) were dealing with it, at that time I was quite content."

The Christian Brothers removed Dowlan from the school in 1974 but he continued to offend for more than a decade.

Commission chairman Justice Peter McClellan​ asked Cardinal Pell whether he had concerns about the decision to move Dowlan.

"Did it not concern you that a brother against whom you had heard of rumours of sexual activity with children was dealt with by him being moved from one place to another?," Justice McClellan asked.

"No," Cardinal Pell replied. "I didn't know exactly what he was accused of but 40 years ago . . . I did not think that was unusual or inappropriate."

During the 1970s, Cardinal Pell advised then Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns​ about education but told the commission he did not tell the bishop about Dowlan.

"No, I didn't," he said. "I regret that I didn't do more at that stage."

Giving his evidence by video-link from Rome, Cardinal Pell gave a scathing assessment of the way former Melbourne Archbishop Frank Little handled sexual abuse complaints.

He told the commission Archbishop Little "did not act when he should have and certainly did not make appropriate information available" to his advisers in allowing suspect priests to move from parish to parish.

One such priest was Peter Searson, with the commission hearing that he pointed a gun at parishioners, asked young girls to sit between his knees at confession, hit a child and tickled a year 6 girl on the stomach while working in Sunbury.

"He was a disconcerting man," Cardinal Pell said. "At his worst moments he could be described as one of the most unpleasant priests that I've met."

The commission heard that the Archdiocese of Melbourne's response to allegations about Searson was to monitor the situation.

"I think that's completely inadequate," Cardinal Pell said.

Cardinal Pell told the commission that when he appointed auxiliary bishop at the Archdiocese of Melbourne in 1987 he did not investigate the backgrounds of individual priests in his remit.

"I did not make any specific inquiries about any specific person," he said.

The hearing continues.



Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.