WHAT Pell Knew, and Didn't Know

9 News
March 3, 2016

Was told fleeting references about Dowlan "touching boys" which Cardinal Pell said was "misbehaviour by Dowlan which I concluded might have been pedophilic activity".

A student at Ballarat's St Patrick's College student told him in 1974 Dowlan was "misbehaving" with boys.

The cardinal said the boy "mentioned it casually in conversation" and did not ask him to do anything.

"I didn't do anything about it," Cardinal Pell said, although he went to the school chaplain who said the Christian Brothers were dealing with it.

He also heard "unfortunate rumours" that were vague and unspecific about Dowlan's activity with young people from other priests.

Asked if he understood it to include sexual activity with young people: "Yes, and possibly excessive discipline or violence but certainly the first was, an element was present."

He did not think it was unusual or inappropriate when Dowlan was moved to another school.


Knew Br Fitzgerald kissed boys: it was "common knowledge and the general conviction was it was harmless enough" and he considered it "eccentric" behaviour.

Knew Br Fitzgerald swam naked with boys: "It was quite common knowledge. Once upon a time, in the schools it was not uncommon at all, it was most unusual at that stage and for us but no improprieties were ever alleged to me."


Heard gossip in the early 1970s about Mildura parish priest Monsignor John Day being accused of pedophile activity: "We were aware of the problem. We talked about it but it was not gossiped about extensively.

"I must say in those days if a priest denied such activity I was very strongly inclined to accept the denial."


He didn't know about Ridsdale's offending which was common knowledge in Inglewood parish in 1975: "It's a sad story and it wasn't of much interest to me.

"The suffering, of course, was real and I very much regret that, but I had no reason to turn my mind to the extent of the evils that Ridsdale had perpetrated."

Ridsdale's nephew and victim David was stunned: "It beggars belief that he could have said he wasn't interested in hearing about the crimes of my uncle."

Cardinal Pell later said he regretted his choice of words and was confused about the sequence of events.

That it is "just not true" he tried to bribe or silence David Ridsdale after the family friend told him about the abuse in 1993.

He did not know the true reason Ridsdale was moved between parishes by Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns.

He understood there was a series of difficulties with Ridsdale "but it certainly was not stated that those difficulties touched on pedophilia and crimes".

Said pedophilia was never mentioned at advisers' meetings in 1970s and 1980s and denied lying about it to protect his own reputation.

"I say that that is completely untrue and unjustified by any evidence. It is a baseless allegation."


Was told by a November 1989 delegation of Doveton teachers about Searson harassing children, staff and parents, showing children a body in a coffin and animal cruelty, among other complaints.

Heard about sexual misconduct allegations against Searson but says he was deceived by the Catholic Education Office.

"I asked the education office and took their word that they had been dealt with appropriately. In retrospect I might have been a bit more pushy with all the parties involved."

After a second delegation of worried parents and a letter to the Catholic Education Office, he agreed with a lawyer's suggestion that he was "in the loop as far as knowledge of Searson being a risk to children" but said the issue was the level of risk and "just what could be done within church and state law".


Said he was deceived about abuse by 1971-1997 Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns, one or more of bishop's consultors in Ballarat diocese, 1974-1996 Melbourne archbishop Frank Little and the Catholic Education Office.

Counsel assisting the commission Gail Furness SC suggests that is implausible and extraordinary. "Counsel, this was an extraordinary world - a world of crimes and cover-ups and people who did not want the status quo to be disturbed," Cardinal Pell said.


He always had reservations about Ryan and never supported his priestly vocation.

"I regarded him as at least a potential problem. I wasn't aware that there was a paedophilia problem and I thought he was there basically to study," he said of Ryan being sent to the US in the late 1970s.

"I could well have imagined that the study in the United States was to help him overcome some adult sexual problem, something like that."








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