Cardinal Pell faces fourth day of testimony at Royal Commission in Rome
March 03, 2016

George Pell saysl the leadership of the church in Australia is committed to avoiding any repetition of the terrible history of the past.

Abuse survivors David Ridsdale and Phil Nagle. George Pell says he will meet with the Ballarat victims tomorrow.

Handcuffed Catholic priest Father Gerald Francis Risdale is led into Melbourne County Court to face charges of sexual abuse of altar boys & other young victims on October 15, 1994.

Father Peter Searson who was found guilty of sexual abuse.

Father Paul David Ryan (left) with then Bishop of Ballarat Ronald Mulkearns (circa early 1980's).

Father Gerald Ridsdale with Archbishop George Pell.

[with video]

CARDINAL Pell said “reading the transcripts of the way the victims suffered” was the toughest part of his four days of testimony to the Royal Commission, after a gruelling six hour cross examination.

The 74-year-old Cardinal faced lawyers from victims named in the inquiry and admitted he should have followed up a complaint about Father Dowlan “misbehaving with boys” during the 1970s.

He also revealed the story behind a much-talked about photograph of him arriving to court with Gerald Ridsdale where the priest was to plead guilty to child sex offences in May 1993, saying he “now realised it was a mistake.”

The Cardinal said he was asked to provide a reference but refused, instead opting to walk him into court in recognition of the Christian principle of kindness that includes people at the bottom of the pile “like Ridsdale.”

On whether or not he should have done more to follow up investigations regarding Father Dowlan, the Cardinal said 40 years of hindsight had made him regret not taking action. It prompted Justice Peter McLellan to ask why the time frame was relevant.

“People had different attitudes then…and the boy wasn’t asking me to do anything about it,” Pell said, leading the commissioner to note it was not the first time he had been waited to be asked rather than acting on his own initiative.

Pell’s lawyer Sam Duggan also had a chance to question the Cardinal in the closing hour of the hearing. Following his testimony, Cardinal Pell said he didn’t think the hearing in Rome which generated international media attention would hurt his reputation. In fact, “this event might do a little bit of good in Europe”

“I was born in Ballarat. I’m very proud of my Ballarat connections. I grieve for the suffering of the people who I regard as my own people.”

Tomorrow the Cardinal will meet with survivors of sexual abuse who will also consult with the Pontifical Commission on the issue. Outside the event, those who had travelled thanked friends, family and the people of Australia for helping fund their trip.

David Ridsdale said the event had exceeded their expectations “times 1000”. “When you face the truth with dignity you really can achieve so much,” he said. “ Don’t ever understate broken people, pick them up.”


A child sex molester could have been stopped 20 years earlier sparing “dozens” of victims if a then young priest George Pell had reported a student’s claim to him about a Christian Brother, the royal commission has heard.

But while Cardinal Pell agreed, during at times tense and final day of the royal commission testimony, that he could have done more he rejected any suggestions he turned his back on any evidence priest paedophilia was going on under his watch.

After four grueling days in the witness box, last night his testimony lasting five hours and ending close to 3am local time, Cardinal Pell said he was tired but satisfied he had contributed to a process of healing and to prevent a repetition of the tragedy of child sex abuse at the hands of the clergy in Australia.

“All of the leadership of the church in Australia is committed to avoiding any repetition of the terrible history of the past and to try to make things better,” he said.

Survivors of abuse who had travelled to Rome to hear his testimony were also somewhat satisfied; the cardinal did not admit any fault or culpability but conceded regret and sorrow the Catholic Church at the time had failed so badly and he didn’t do more.

Lawyers representing at least one dozens victims of sex abuse at the hands of clergy between the 1970s and 1990s were yesterday given their first real chance to question the cardinal and took the opportunity to accuse him of a series of failings during his career to which they said he was now attempting to deflect through “trained” answers.

Specifically, the royal commission heard a then Fr Pell had been told by a student at St Patrick’s College in Ballarat that Christian Brother Edward Dowlan was “misbehaving with boys”.

Pell would later mention it to a chaplain at the school but did nothing more to follow up on the claims which the royal commission heard was later covered up by the Christian Brothers who posted Dowlan elsewhere to continue to offend for another decade.

Up until this point in the royal commission hearings, it had just been the inquiry’s Senior Counsel Gail Furness leading the questions but yesterday the victims through their lawyers were allowed to ask evidence at many points in his career.

Cardinal Pell conceded that as a young cleric he perhaps put too much stock in superiors acting to deal with suspicions of paedophilia in the ranks, particularly in Ballarat which the commission heard had five child sex predators from the clergy operating in the one small area in what was the worst cases of its kind in Australia.

Cardinal Pell said it was an “unfortunate coincidence” created among other reasons from the “disasterous” leadership of the Christian Brothers.

“With the experience of 40 years later I certainly agree I should have done more … people had different attitudes then and the boy wasn’t asking me to do anything about it.”

Commissioner Peter McClelland at this point questioned why it was the cardinal always felt during his testimony that it was necessary for people to ask him to do something rather than he accept information and initiate a response.

“I was a young cleric but I don’t excuse my comparative lack of activity, the fact is I only went to the school chaplain and inquired what was the truth of the rumours.”

The Cardinal also revealed the circumstances behind the infamous picture of him walking into court with Fr Gerald Ridsdale in May 1993 when the serial child abuser was about to plead guilty to more than 100 child sex offences. He said he “now realised” that too was a mistake but it was done out of recognition for the “good things” Ridsdale had done at the church.

The Cardinal was also grilled on a controversial phone call between himself and David Ridsdale, where the nephew of Gerald said he had been sexually abused by his uncle. David claims Pell offered what it would take to “keep him quiet”, in essence a bribe. However Pell said he was misunderstood and again, regretted not doing more.


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