Seven Things You Need to Know about Cardinal George Pell’s Testimony
March 4, 2016

IT WAS a big week at the Royal Commission for Cardinal Pell.

With nearly 20 hours of testimony given over four nights covering four decades in country Victoria, there was a lot to get through.

As the evidence flowed thick and fast containing some extraordinary admissions, here are the crucial points you might have missed:


While much of the testimony centred around what Pell indirectly knew or didn’t know, there was a crucial moment in which Pell admitted a boy complained directly to him about Father Edward Dowlan “misbehaving with boys” and he did not follow it up.

“I didn’t do anything about it,” Pell told the Royal Commission adding that he eventually “enquired of the school chaplain.”

“With the experience of 40 years later I certainly agree I should have done more,” he said. When asked why he needed 40 years hindsight to have realised he should have done something he trotted out a now familiar line of “people had different attitudes then.”

Outside after the hearing, abuse survivor David Ridsdale said: “There’s never a good time to rape a child.”

The survivors of child abuse by Catholic clergy in Australia: Gordon Hill (from left), David Ridsdale and Dominic Ridsdale. Picture: AFP/Andreas SolaroSource:AFP


The Commission heard a horrendous list of activates from Father Peter Searson, a notorious paedophile priest operating in Doveton, which was part of Pell’s patch as auxiliary Bishop.

He died in 2009 but conducted an outrageous string of offences including pointing a gun at people and holding a knife to a girl’s chest saying “if you move this will go through you”.

He also recorded confessions, forced children to kneel between his legs, hung around the children’s toilets, gave sermons on pornography censorship and was the subject of complaints by mothers who said they did not want their children near him.

Pell described him as a “disconcerting man” and a “difficult customer”. He said when he took a list of complaints from parents to Archbishop Little nothing was done — in evidence of the apparent “blind spot” the Archbishop had towards the man.


Throughout the hearing, the Cardinal gave restrained, rational testimony that stuck to the evidence at hand. There was no emotional adlibbing or Oprah-style confessions in what may partly be the reason he has been accused of having an almost “sociopathic” lack of empathy.

While it’s understandable given his statements are to become a matter of public record, it did make for some extraordinary exchanges as seen below regarding Father Searson’s stabbing of a bird in front of children.

Senior Counsel Gail Furness: “Noting this is dated 1991, there is reference in that paragraph to Father Searson stabbing to death a bird in front of the children”

Pell: “Yes”

Furness: “Did that come to your attention?

Pell: “At some stage I think. I don’t know whether the bird was already dead, but at some stage I certainly was informed of this bizarre happening.”

Furness: “Does it matter whether the bird was dead, or it was stabbed when it was dead?

Pell: “Not — not really. Not really.”

Senior Counsel Gail Furness is the tough barrister skewering Pell in Rome. Picture: Jeremy PiperSource:News Corp Australia


A senior AFP officer had been brought over specifically to liaise with the Italian police who were guarding the hotel along with local Carabinieri. No filming was allowed inside, and there were more than a dozen hotel security and Vatican police on hand constantly, talking into mobiles and waving people down with wands before they entered the hearing room.

The first night it all got a bit dramatic when Pell swooped in via the back entrance and security was involved with a scuffle with an SBS reporter. From then on he came through the front with security clearing a path from the waiting media.


Throughout his testimony Pell painted a picture of a different world which cannot be understood by today’s standards. When Gail Furness suggested it was an “extraordinary world” where the Catholic Education office, Archbishop Little, Bishop Mulkearns and other consultors in the Ballarat Diocese all colluded to keep information from him, Pell said: “This was an extraordinary world, a world of crimes and cover-ups, and people did not want the status quo to be disturbed.”

At another point he spoke of the “secretive” nature of priests in an age where there was no social media and people kept to themselves. “There is a saying in the church and elsewhere that those who know don’t say and those who say don’t know.

“Priests, because they hear confessions, can be and must be about certain matters among the most secretive of people. I do not remember much discussion about the secret failings of priests, and certainly at that stage there was never any discussion in my presence about the dreadful story of [Gerald] Ridsdale,” he said regarding a man known as one of Australia’s most notorious paedophile priests.


Audible gasps were heard when on the first day Pell said paedophile Gerald Ridsdale’s story was a sad one that “wasn’t of much interest to me” as it seemed an admission he knew of his offending at the time — something he has always maintained he did not.

At the start of the fourth session, however, the Cardinal corrected himself, saying he was “confused” as the question had ranged from the 1970s to the 1990s and back.

“I remember messing up this sequence completely,” he said. “I regret the choice of words, I was very confused, I responded poorly. Just previous to this exchange we were talking about 1993-1994 and then we swung over to 1975.”

George Pell pictured with Gerald Ridsdale in 1993. Picture: SuppliedSource:Supplied


The mood in the room ranged from horrified, to frustrated, shocked and disbelieving at times, however there were a handful of lighter moments in which Cardinal Pell showed a bit of personality.

On the first day, Gail Furness said she thought he was being “modest” by underselling his sporting and academic prowess to which he agreed he had “some capacity” in both areas. At another point he said the invention of the pill in the 1960s meant there was a “whiff of revolutionary spirit” during the Roman colleges and seminaries.

When asked if he was human, Pell replied “I hope so”. However the biggest guffaws came from the hearing room in Sydney when Pell said “We work within the framework of Christian moral teaching.”








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