Two new accusers say George Pell abused them when they were boys in the 1970s

By Sarah Ferguson
April 1, 2020

Bernie says the psychological pressure was too great for him to proceed to trial.

Cardinal George Pell, who is serving time in a Victorian prison, maintains that is he is innocent of all sexual abuse allegations.

Bernie grew up in a Catholic orphanage in Ballarat, run by the Sisters of Nazareth.

Bernie says he came to look at Father George Pell as a father figure.

Bernie, with journalist Sarah Ferguson, inside Ballarat's St Patrick's Cathedral.

For decades, 53-year-old Bernie* kept the secrets of his childhood deeply buried.

As a boy growing up in a Ballarat orphanage in the 1970s, Bernie told the ABC's Revelation program that he was abused on multiple occasions by George Pell, then a priest in the diocese of Ballarat.

For years Bernie was convinced that if he reported the abuse, he would not be believed.

"I would hear Pell's become Bishop," Bernie says.

"Pell's become Archbishop. Pell's become a Cardinal. Who's gonna believe a little boy from a home against that conglomerate? You know against that bloody goliath?"

This is the first time Bernie has told his story publicly, but in March 2016, Victoria Police contacted Bernie as part of a wide-ranging investigation of historical sexual abuse allegations against Pell.

That investigation led to Pell's conviction on charges of abusing two choir boys in Melbourne's St Patrick's Cathedral in the 1990s.

Additional allegations, including Bernie's, were either withdrawn, dismissed or dropped when a planned second trial of George Pell was abandoned by the Victorian DPP.

Pell is currently in prison, awaiting the outcome of an appeal to the high court against his conviction. Pell says he is innocent of all sexual abuse allegations.

Pell a 'father figure'

Bernie was abandoned by his mother at birth in 1966. He was made a ward of the state and placed in a Catholic orphanage in Ballarat, run by the Sisters of Nazareth.

Bernie says he met Father George Pell at the home when he was a young boy and came to look on him as a father figure.

He remembers Pell being in the home at shower time.

"Before I know it, he's soaping my genitals … soaping me all over … rubbing his hand up my butt crack and 'wash there properly' and all this sort of stuff."

Bernie says he remembers a particular occasion when Pell touched his penis.

"He was lathering me up and he pulled my foreskin over the head of my penis and that hurt, that really hurt. … he said it's normal, it won't hurt as much as the time goes on."

During the 2018 committal proceedings at Melbourne Magistrates' Court, Pell's defence team argued that Pell had only been to Nazareth House once, in 1980 when the home was closing. The current regional superior of the Sisters of Nazareth, Sister Margaret O'Keefe told the ABC that Father Pell had never been to the home.

A second boy from Nazareth House, Peter Clarke, claims that George Pell indecently touched him in the swimming pool at the boys' home. At the time, Clarke says he did not think of it as sexual abuse.

"To what I know now, as being child abuse or sexual abuse, I didn't look at it back then," he says. "All I knew he just f***ing hurt my ring hole … It was just a simple subtle of a finger through the anus, but pushing your bathers, your togs, we called them togs."

Like Bernie, Clarke was contacted by Victoria police task force Sano in their investigation of Pell.

"They came to me with this and I didn't want to have no part of this f***ing thing," said Clarke.

'Your hand would get pushed down there'

During winter months in the 1970s, boys from Nazareth House were taken to the YMCA in Ballarat for swimming. Pell was sometimes there to supervise.

Phillip Clarke says the boys would warn each other about Pell's behaviour in the pool.

"We'd say, 'Watch your nuts, watch your nuts'," he says.

Bernie remembers Pell playing a game where he would hide 20 cents in his swimming trunks and encourage Bernie to look for it.

"Your hand would get pushed down there and you're groping him and fondling him," he says. "But I'm not thinking that I'm groping or fondling him, my whole mind set was to try and find the 20 cents."

Bernie also recalls Pell in the showers after swimming.

"He was naked in the shower with us kids."

As a child, Bernie says he did not understand the implications of Pell's behaviour.

"It was purely for like his gratification. I've got no doubt about that now … it's taken years to work out his whole conniving methodology of what he was doing but back then, as a kid, I'm oblivious to all of those facts."

Ballarat local Brett O'Neill who was a regular at the YMCA for swim training when Pell was at the pool, says he never saw Pell do anything inappropriate.

"No … if something had been a bit out of whack with George, I think our parents would have got involved. If they had thought there was something not right, they would've been in the change rooms."

'I'm not ashamed now'

In the late 1970s, preparing for his Catholic Confirmation, Bernie was told to meet Pell in Ballarat's St Patrick's Cathedral after school. After agreeing to do some chores in the garden, Bernie says Pell told him he was too dirty to go back to the home and needed to have a shower in the adjoining presbytery.

He says Pell insisted on getting in the shower with him.

"I can remember him standing behind me," Bernie says. "And while he was lathering me with his arms around me, I could feel an erection. Pushing, pushing against me. So, I turned around and saw it and that's when I froze."

Bernie fled from the bathroom and ran downstairs. According to Bernie, Pell appeared some minutes later to drive him to the home.

"[He] leant over in his pocket and pulled out a brown $1 note. I'll never forget it. A brown $1 note."

Bernie says Pell went on: "The reason I'm giving you one dollar is you're not to tell a soul that you've done some work here at the presbytery."

When Bernie was contacted by Victoria Police in 2016, he made a sworn statement but says the psychological pressure was too great for him to proceed to trial. He says he now feels ready to tell his story.

"I'm not ashamed now, mate. No. It's not my shame anymore, George have it, George it's yours, deal with it. You have the shame mate. I don't want it anymore."


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