Sexual abuse victims know the truth. George Pell allowed lives to be destroyed to protect himself and the Catholic church

The Guardian [London, England]

January 15, 2023

By Chrissie Foster

[Note from – For more on the allegations against Pell, as well as his trial, see our summary and our detailed timeline: Timeline of the Allegations and Prosecution Faced by Cardinal George Pell.]

Suppression of the truth comes from the Catholic church’s canon law. There is no exposing of hierarchy

To be a sexual assault victim of Catholic clergy is to know the truth – the truth of your own experience. That truth, long suppressed by victim, perpetrator and organisation alike is what keeps the crime of paedophilia alive. Children are easily intimidated and silenced. Paedophilic crimes thrived among Catholic clergy.

Suppression of the truth comes from the church’s canon law 489 which orders every bishop of a diocese and archbishop of an archdiocese, to maintain and keep under lock and key a secret archive. Canon law 489 acknowledges that “criminal cases in matters of morals” could be among the matters held in the secret archive. This means that everyone from the pope down to the bishop in your local diocese maintains a secret archive. Canon laws must be obeyed by clergy.

When an offender is moved to a new parish and new offences occur against more children, that bishop or archbishop who knew of past crimes, yet transferred them anyway, instead of reporting them to police, is responsible for those new sexual assaults. There is no exposing of hierarchy by other hierarchy because they are all compromised.

When it comes to child sexual abuse, Cardinal Pell’s own words betrayed him. During the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse’s hearing in Rome, when asked if he knew Gerald Ridsdale’s offending against children was commonly known in the parish, Pell responded that he didn’t know. He then added: “It’s a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me.”

Another response from Pell in Rome regarded a complaint he received from a college student about allegations of sexual assault by Edward Dowlan against younger boys at the school. When Pell was asked by the commission if he passed on the allegations to school staff, Pell said he hadn’t. Pell agreed that he should have done more “… with the experience of 40 years later”. The commission asked: “Wasn’t it a serious matter then?”. Pell replied: “Yes, but people had a different attitude then. There were no specifics about the activity, how serious it was, and the boy wasn’t asking me to do anything about it, but just lamenting and mentioning it.”

Perhaps before people speak of Cardinal Pell’s greatness and saintliness, they should also read the unredacted sections of the final reports on child abuse from the Royal Commission Case Study nos. 28 (Ballarat Diocese) and 35 (Melbourne Archdiocese) which were withheld from publication to allow Cardinal Pell a fair trial.

In short, Pell protected his own interests and his church’s finances. He let children suffer. He destroyed lives.

Chrissie Foster AM is the author of Hell on the Way to Heaven with Paul Kennedy and author of Still Standing: A Mother’s Fight to Bring the Catholic Church to Justice with Paul Kennedy, to be released 2 May 2023

In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is 13 11 14. If you or someone you know is affected by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit In an emergency, call 000. International helplines can be found via

 This article was amended on 17 January 2023 to clarify that while a secret archive is mandated under canon law 489, and criminal cases might be among its contents, there is no requirement that any criminal case documentation must be lodged there.