Cardinal George Pell "Wrong" to Blame Others for Sex Abuse Cover Up, Inquiry Told

By Rachel Browne
Sydney Morning Herald
April 27, 2016

Senior Catholic education officials have spoken of their shock and anger at Cardinal George Pell's evidence to a royal commission that staff had covered up complaints about a paedophile priest.

Cardinal Pell told the royal commission last month that staff from the Catholic Education Office deceived him by failing to give a full account of allegations about Father Peter Searson

Cardinal George Pell gives evidence to the royal commission via video link from Rome last month.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse has heard evidence that Father Searson, who died in 2009, killed a bird in front of children, showed them a dead body in a coffin, held a gun to the heads of parishioners, threatened to stab a child and repeatedly molested youngsters during confession.

Senior staff from the Catholic Education Office in Victoria strongly rejected Cardinal Pell's evidence that he was not made fully aware of Father Searson's behaviour while parish priest of Doveton in Melbourne in the 1980s.

Former deputy director of the Catholic Education Office Peter Annett told the royal commission parishioners and staff at Doveton's Holy Family school would have been "cheering from the rooftops" if Cardinal Pell, then an auxilliary bishop in the Melbourne Archdiocese, had worked to convince then-archbishop Frank Little to remove Father Searson.

Cardinal Pell reads a statement after meeting victims of abuse in Rome last month. Photo: Getty Images

When asked by counsel assisting Gail Furness to respond to Cardinal Pell's claim that the Catholic Education Office failed to properly inform him about Father Searson, Mr Annett replied: "I admit some shock that [Cardinal Pell] referred to inaction on the part of that Catholic Education Office. I was disappointed and perhaps angry."

The commission has heard evidence that Holy Family school parents and teachers as well as Catholic Education Office staff repeatedly raised concerns about the risk Father Searson posed to children.

Monsignor Thomas Doyle, former executive director of the Catholic Education Office, told the commission Cardinal Pell's evidence that he was deceived by education office staff was wrong.

Father Peter Searson, who died in 2009.

"I thought he was quite wrong and I think I was very disappointed that he said those things about the Catholic Education Office because I don't think they were true," he said.

Cardinal Pell told the commission he believed CEO staff lied to him because they feared he "would not accept the status quo."

Contrary to Cardinal Pell's claim, Monsignor Doyle said the CEO would have welcomed his assistance in removing the priest.

Allan Dooley, a consultant with the CEO, told the commission office staff were frank in their disclosures to Cardinal Pell about Father Searson.

"I found it difficult that Cardinal Pell came to that conclusion, the one of deceit," he said.

Catherine Briant, a former CEO consultant with responsibility for the Holy Family school between 1989 and 1990, told the commission she was unaware of allegations Father Searson was a sexual abuser at that time.

Father Searson was suspended in 1997, a year after Cardinal Pell became Archbishop of Melbourne.

The inquiry before Justice Peter McClellan marks the fourth sitting of the hearing into allegations of widespread clerical sexual abuse in the Melbourne Archdiocese. The hearing has concluded.








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