George Pell investigated over multiple allegations of sexual abuse

By Louise Milligan
July 27, 2016
Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Police are investigating multiple child abuse allegations against Cardinal George Pell. Cardinal Pell has emphatically denied the allegations.


SABRA LANE, PRESENTER: Tonight, a special report. Rightly or wrongly, over the course of the child abuse royal commission, one figure has emerged as a lightning rod for the anger of Catholics. Cardinal George Pell has been grilled over what he knew about clergy abuse of children in the Church's care. Tonight, 7.30 changes the focus of that discussion to reveal a series of allegations levelled against the Cardinal himself. Victoria's Police Commissioner recently confirmed his Taskforce Sano is investigating George Pell over multiple allegations. We can reveal that investigation has been going for more than a year and involves a number of complainants spanning decades. 7.30 understands that file has been sent to the Office of Public Prosecutions for advice. The Cardinal has issued a statement saying he emphatically and unequivocally rejects any allegations of sexual abuse against him. 7.30 acknowledges the Cardinal is entitled to a presumption of innocence and that the allegations are yet to be tested by any court. In an investigation over several months, reporter Louise Milligan and producer Andy Burns spoke to scores of witnesses and other sources, piecing together the complaints being examined by the police. Many of those they spoke to are concerned that the full picture may never emerge and that's why they've decided to tell their story publicly. Because of the nature of the story, a warning that it contains details that may distress some viewers. 

LOUISE MILLIGAN, REPORTER: The town of Ballarat has long been a staunchly Catholic place and Catholic Ballarat's favourite son was a strapping young priest called George Pell.

LYNDON MONUMENT: George Pell was like a father figure. He was the biggest figure in the Church in Ballarat.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: It was to be a brilliant career. Archbishop of Melbourne, ...

GEORGE PELL, CARDINAL: We place ourselves in the presence of God, our loving father.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: ... Archbishop of Sydney, ...

GEORGE PELL: And suffering and evil will not have the last word.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Now Cardinal based in the Vatican, he's one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church.

TERRY LAIDLER, FORMER VICTORIAN PRIEST: Well I think he never shied away from being seen as the face of the Catholic Church in Australia.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: While George Pell's career was advancing through the Church, a very different story was emerging from Ballarat. In that town, a generation of children lost its innocence to clergy abuse. A generation of adults is now dealing with the consequences.

DAMIAN DIGNAN: It was never to be spoken of. If you did, you were dirty. You were an outcast to your family.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Since the child abuse royal commission exposed the extent of the problem, Ballarat's churches are now enclosed in so-called loud fences to symbolise ending that silence. St. Alipius has perhaps the loudest fence of all. Serial predator Gerald Ridsdale was at one time parish priest and a rung of paedophile brothers who taught at the school abused and beat dozens of children.

DAMIAN DIGNAN: Like a dog that's been beaten too much. You've got no confidence. You can't talk and you'll never talk. You feel ashamed.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: The legacy is still felt in Ballarat.

LYNDON MONUMENT: There's still places in this town now like where we drive past every day and you see the gouges out of the telegraph pole where you know that friends have ran into it to kill 'emselves.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: George Pell was also a presence in the children's lives at St. Alipius in the 1970s. Father Pell was the Episcopal Vicar for Education for the Ballarat Diocese. He'd also lived in the St. Alipius Presbytery with Gerald Ridsdale earlier in the '70s.

LYNDON MONUMENT: And he was always just the godly figure. We all had to look up to him and, like, we'd even get told in class, you know, "George Pell's coming today, so brush your hair and tuck yourself in," and, yeah.

DAMIAN DIGNAN: He was big, solid man and had eyes that'd stare right through ya. They'd pierce your heart. Very strong, scary man.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: In a letter from the time tendered to the royal commission, George Pell described his episcopal vicar role as part of, quote, "... the essential link between Bishop, priests, parents, teachers and students."

Terry Laidler was a Victorian priest in the 1970s and he knew the system well. 

What sort of person would you want in that role?

TERRY LAIDLER: Somebody I suppose who has that heart, the safety and the welfare of the kids that the system educates.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: This former student would often see George Pell at St. Alipius. His name is Lyndon Monument.

On long summer days in Ballarat, Lyndon Monument, like most kids in the inland town, would head to the Eureka pool, and there, very often, would be Father Pell.

LYNDON MONUMENT: He'd play games like throw the kids out of the water, like, and you'd put your leg in his hands and he'd, "One, two, three," and then he'd throw you out of the water. But it was only ever with boys.

DARREN MOONEY, FORMER ST. ALIPIUS STUDENT: There was never any girls flying off his shoulders or playing with him in the pool, it was always boys.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Darren Mooney was another kid who used to play with Pell at the pool every summer.

DARREN MOONEY: He'd throw us off his shoulders. There'd be three or four on him at a time, crawling all over him, the front, the back. He would grab you from - have his hands on your backside and then he'd push you off. He just seemed to be there all day, every day.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: But Lyndon Monument has told police that in the summer of 1978-'79, the seemingly innocent game with Father Pell began to conceal something else beneath the water. He says the priest would unclasp his hands and use his free hand to molest him.

LYNDON MONUMENT: You know, his hand touching your genitals and stuff on the outside of your bathers or shorts. And then that showily became hand down the front of the pants or your bathers or whatever you call them.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Under the water?

LYNDON MONUMENT: Under the water.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Lyndon Monument told police and 7.30 George Pell would touch his penis, testicles and anus before throwing him in the air.

LYNDON MONUMENT: I just tried not to think about it.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: It's deserted here at the Eureka pool this time of year, but in summer in the 1970s, it was a hive of activity. The family who owned the pool at that time have confirmed to 7.30 that George Pell was a constant fixture and he always surrounded by children, but they said they never saw anything untoward and if they had've, he would have been sent away and they would have called the police.

When contacted by police, the pool manager's wife says she never saw any behaviour by George Pell that concerned her. He was very popular with the children. Her statement is one of many made to Victoria Police's Taskforce Sano, which investigates claims of sexual abuse coming out of the royal commission.

Victoria's Police Commissioner Graham Ashton confirmed last month that Taskforce Sano is investigating multiple allegations against the Cardinal, and if necessary, detectives would fly to Rome to interview George Pell. He said at that point, it had not been put to him as necessary. The commissioner declined an interview with 7.30, but his spokesman confirmed this is very much a live investigation. 

The detectives contacted Lyndon Monument last July.

LYNDON MONUMENT: I kept throwing them off and then eventually they just asked me if I'd give 'em five minutes of their time, which I did.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Why didn't you want to be involved at the start?

LYNDON MONUMENT: Um, because it was a lot of pain for not only me, but for a lot of other people and I learnt to deal with things by just keeping 'em close to me, I s'pose.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: He eventually agreed that making the statement was the right thing to do. In it, he also says Father Pell invited him into the change rooms after the swimming.

LYNDON MONUMENT: He'd undress and then he'd say to us to undress. So we'd undress. And then he'd just, yeah, teach you how to dry your testicles and, you know, in between your bum and stuff like that.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: And while he was doing this, was he wearing clothes?


LOUISE MILLIGAN: In his police interview, Lyndon Monument said he didn't know why Father Pell insisted that he and his mates go to the change rooms after he finished playing with them in the pool. He said, "I look back now and think that he only wanted to perv on us when he was naked."

After the change rooms, Lyndon Monument says he put his wet underpants and shorts back on and go back to play at the pool all day.

LYNDON MONUMENT: I didn't like it, but, um - because it was the Church and just - he was George Pell. We just - you just weren't game to ever say anything, you know what I mean?

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Cardinal Pell declined an interview for this story, but in a statement, his office said he, "emphatically and unequivocally rejects any allegations of sexual abuse against him." He said he, "regrets that the sensationalist attention to these unfounded and untrue claims might cause distress to genuine victims and he encourages anyone with a legitimate complaint to pursue it through the correct channels."

7.30 has contacted many other people who as children went to the Eureka pool in the late-1970s. All remember George Pell playing the throwing game with the boys in the water. Many remember seeing the priest going into the change rooms.

DARREN MOONEY: It's been something that we've spoken about for years, well before any abuse allegations came up.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Darren Mooney felt uneasy about George Pell in the change rooms. He's now a principal of a tiny school north of Ballarat, but back then, he and his group of friends were a couple of grades above Lyndon Monument at St. Alipius.

DARREN MOONEY: Probably in particular the most memorable part was George in the change rooms. He would be in the change rooms naked on a regular basis and he'd be towelling himself off. ... He'd have his towel and he'd be sort of brushing himself like that and like that (using hands to indicate towel being used to dry back) and I dare say that a man in his position should know better than to be undressing in front of kids. Fair enough to go and swim and play with kids and do what you're gonna do and - but at the end of the day, to put yourself in a position where you're naked in front of young children I think it's just unacceptable.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Behind this woodpile, behind this shed, lives Damian Dignan. Damian Dignan was the taskforce witness who suggested police contact Lyndon Monument, his childhood best friend at St. Alipius. As they grew up, they occasionally discussed their experiences at the Eureka pool, though they both say these days they aren't in contact and haven't been for a couple of years since well before Taskforce Sano detectives ever met them last July. Damian Dignan also told police he remembers playing the throwing game with George Pell at the Eureka pool. 

What would he do?

DAMIAN DIGNAN: Grab you. Around the testes, around the anus.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: How did it make you feel?

DAMIAN DIGNAN: Scared. Oh, scared, but hurt. Ah, very forceful around the anus.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Could there ever be an interpretation that it just so happened that his hands slipped down there by mistake?

DAMIAN DIGNAN: Fair enough, one time. It got to a stage where every time he picked you up, it was there. And, not much fun, no.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: In his statement, Damian Dignan told police, "Father Pell was making me feel very uncomfortable when he was grabbing me on the penis and testicles and throwing me in the air. I never said anything to Father Pell when he grabbed me around the penis and testicles because I was scared of him. Towards the end, Father Pell began to hurt me around the crotch area when he threw me into the air. I didn't like it and I knew what he was doing was wrong."

So what did that make you decide to do in terms of your attending the pool?

DAMIAN DIGNAN: Ah, not really go there. Um, not swim there.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Like Lyndon Monument's, Damian Dignan's allegations remain untested by the law. 

7.30 sent questions to Cardinal Pell. He did not address specific allegations, but said, "The Cardinal does not wish to cause any distress to any victim of abuse. However, claims that he sexually abused anyone, in any place, at any time in his life are totally untrue and completely wrong. He denies the allegations absolutely and says that they, and any acceptance of them by the ABC, are nothing more than a scandalous smear campaign which appears to be championed by the ABC. If there was any credibility in any of these claims, they would have been pursued by the royal commission by now."

However, the royal commission told 7.30 it only investigates institutions. Allegations against an individual like Cardinal Pell are outside its terms of reference. It refers all new claims of clergy abuse to police. 

Damian Dignan says he was terrified of Father Pell.

DAMIAN DIGNAN: It's sorta hard to explain is that to sit in a confession box with a very, very, very strong, scary man sitting on the other side. ... We were very, very scared as little kids.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Damian Dignan was also fearful of some teachers at St. Alipius. He has given another statement to police outlining serious and repeated abuse by a female relief teacher. He says that abuse had an enormous psychological impact on him. He tried to alert a family member. 

And what happened?

DAMIAN DIGNAN: She took her shoe off and hit me in the face about six or seven times and said I was dirty.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: So that can't have given you much confidence to go and talk to her about George Pell.


LOUISE MILLIGAN: Lyndon Monument says he too had kept silent about other serious abuse unrelated to George Pell in his case by a vicious teacher who made him masturbate and perform oral sex. The only person Lyndon Monument told was his brother Craig, who advised his little brother never to speak of it.

LYNDON MONUMENT: With the George Pell thing, we just kept that quiet and kept us all amongst us because you feel like a d**khead. No-one wanted to be called a gaybo and - you know what I mean?, by your friends when you're young. You just don't want that s**t getting out.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: There'll be so many people in Australia thinking, "But this is a small town where there's been so much discussion about this issue. Why hasn't it come out about Pell?"

LYNDON MONUMENT: I can't answer that because, well, why didn't it come out about Gerald Ridsdale? Why didn't it come out about the rest of 'em, you know? Like, it was all hushed, hushed. And I've seen kids come battered and bruised to school that were beaten the s**t out of by their parents.


LYNDON MONUMENT: For mentioning that they had been molested.


LYNDON MONUMENT: At St. Alipius. I - my mate that - yeah and I feel terrible that he's not with us anymore, but I encouraged him to go and tell his parents and then, like I said, I had to look at him and he'd been beaten to an absolute pulp by his father for going home and speaking badly against the Catholics after he'd been raped the day before.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: And this is someone who took his own life?


LOUISE MILLIGAN: George Pell left the Ballarat Diocese for Melbourne in 1984. He then spent his summers at Torquay Beach, where he was a member of the local surf club. Local dad Les Tyack's kids were keen surfers and Mr Tyack used to see George Pell around the club. One summer day, he says he witnessed a strange incident, so strange it later compelled him to go to police. He says he walked into the club change rooms and found George Pell and three boys he estimates were aged between eight and 10.

LES TYACK, TORQUAY RESIDENT: I said, "Hi, George." And at that time he was towelling - had the towel going across his shoulders drying his back. But he was facing three young boys only about three or four metres across from him. And I thought it was a little strange, but I put my gear down on the bench and walked into the showers. I was in the showers for probably five to 10 minutes and when I came out, the boys had got dressed, but Pell just had the towel over his right shoulder, still facing the boys. And the boys were looking at him. There was no communication between them, but Pell was looking at the boys, they were looking at him. I immediately thought, "This is not right. There is something amiss here." 

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Les Tyack says he was disturbed that a naked man had stood there for 10 minutes facing the boys.

LES TYACK: I thought that was not on. Very strange situation for an adult to be full frontal to three young boys. I said to the young boys, "Finish doing what you're doing, off you go." When they left, I then said to George Pell, "I know what you're up to. Piss off. Get out of here. If I see you back in this club again, I'll call the police." 

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Mr Tyack says the way George Pell's torso was angled during the incident also raised alarm bells. 

LES TYACK: It makes me very suspicious that he was exposing himself to those three young boys. He made sure that at no time was I given the opportunity to see the front of him.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: And you thought that was suspicious?

LES TYACK: Very suspicious. Very suspicious. Because when I challenged him, he made no response to me at all, which I thought quite odd. I'm certain that if I'd been challenged in such a manner, I certainly would have fired up with questioning. What do you mean? What are you talking about? But no, Pell went very silent, didn't say a word.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: When the royal commission was sitting last year, Les Tyack decided to make his statement to Victoria Police.

LES TYACK: There may have been other incidents out there in the public domain that people had seen or witnessed and so I decided to report it so that those collating all the evidence could put it aside there and it might help form a dossier on Pell's activities.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Cardinal Pell did not specifically address the allegations made by Les Tyack, but says more generally that, "No request has been made to interview Cardinal Pell, nor has he received any details of these claims from the police or anyone. In late May, the Cardinal was advised by the SANO Taskforce that there had been no change in the status of the investigation," since a newspaper reported in February that an investigation was taking place.

Cardinal Pell makes the point that he has apologised to victims of abuse of other priests on behalf of the Church many times and has met with many victims personally. 

In Melbourne throughout the 1980s and '90s, George Pell continued to advance through the Church, becoming Archbishop in 1996. It was to become a profoundly important role.

TERRY LAIDLER: He was the first bishop in Australia to set up a formal process for dealing with allegations of abuse, the Melbourne Response.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: He later told the royal commission he knew almost nothing of the abuse caused by priests in the diocese during his ascendancy and said others in the Church conspired to hide the truth from him.

COMMISSIONER (March 2, 2016): Are you telling me they've deceived you?


COUNSEL ASSISTING: It's an extraordinary position, Cardinal.

GEORGE PELL: Um, Counsel, this was an extraordinary world, a world of crimes and cover-ups.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: But as George Pell was defending his legacy on the handling of other priests, the Taskforce Sano was investigating complaints against the Cardinal himself. 7.30 has now seen eight statements to the taskforce from complainants, witnesses and family members. The complaints range over several decades right into the 1990s when George Pell was Archbishop of Melbourne. At that time, he's accused of abusing two teenage choir boys here at St. Patrick's Cathedral. The boys asked to leaving the choir soon after the alleged abuse occurred. One of them died in tragic circumstances two years ago. The other managed to keep his life on an even keel and is working with Taskforce Sano detectives. 

In 2002, George Pell became Archbishop of Sydney. He was at the height of his powers when a bombshell dropped. A man came forward to the Catholic Church to allege that George Pell abused him when he, the complainant, was 12 years old.

REPORTER: The alleged victim claims Dr Pell abused him in 1961. He says it happened at a camp on Victoria's Phillip Island when Dr Pell was a trainee priest.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: The complainant alleged that on several occasions the man known to him as "Big George" put his hands down his pants and, quote, "Got a good handful of his penis and testicles." He says George Pell molested him on several occasions in a tent and once under his bathers when they were in the water jumping in the waves.

TONY JONES, JOURNALIST: The Archbishop has stood aside from his position, saying he welcomes an investigation of the complaint as an opportunity to clear his name.

GEORGE PELL: These allegations against me are lies and I deny them utterly and totally.

JOHN HOWARD, THEN PRIME MINISTER: I believe completely George Pell's denial.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: The Catholic Church held an internal inquiry, heard by retired Supreme Court Justice Alex Southwell. After the complaint was made, a file was compiled on the complainant, who had been a wharfie, a convicted criminal and an alcoholic. The details of the man's criminal history then appeared in the media. 

ALEX SOUTHWELL, RET. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE (male voiceover): "... the complainant's credibility was subjected to a forceful attack."

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Nonetheless, Justice Southwell still found that the complainant's evidence was truthful, but the judge found the same of George Pell, so he didn't find against Pell.

ALEX SOUTHWELL (male voiceover): I, "... find that I am not satisfied that the complaint has been established."

GEORGE PELL: There's no mud to stick. I've been exonerated.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: The experience of the Southwell complainant is why Lyndon Monument and Damian Dignan are declaring some painful truths about their own lives. Since he left St. Alipius behind, Lyndon Monument suffered great personal tragedy. His wife suicided in 2002. His brother Craig suicided in 2007. Several St. Alipius friends who survived sexual abuse by clergy also took their lives. Lyndon Monument's life spun out of control.

LYNDON MONUMENT: That's why I took to drugs. Just, yeah - just to blank it all out. And then, still to this day, like, I know it sounds horrible and I'd never hurt meself because I love my family and me kids, but I don't really like living.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Lyndon Monument became a drug addict and for a while dealt amphetamines. He was prosecuted for assault of his then girlfriend and another man over a drug debt in 2010 and he spent 11 months in jail.

LYNDON MONUMENT: I deserved jail for what I did and I don't blame that on nothing.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: He's now a manual labourer.

LYNDON MONUMENT: When I'm not doing that, I just try and go to sleep. Quick as I can. 'Cause I hate being awake.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Keeping silent also took its toll on Damian Dignan. He too has run foul of the law for assault and drink driving. He has leukaemia and lives alone in a tiny granny flat.

DAMIAN DIGNAN: And I never, ever dealt with it and I didn't - never spoke of it. Very distant, didn't show emotion, took to alcohol to not have feelings. ... I lost everything I had. A good partner, beautiful children, a home, freedom. Yeah.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Psychiatrist Carolyn Quadrio is a specialist in child sexual abuse who gave evidence to the royal commission about the profound effect abuse has as children grow up.

CAROLYN QUADRIO, FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST: And so you'd see this very sad trajectory that people get on to of getting into trouble because of substance abuse, dropping out of school because of substance abuse, not succeeding in employment, having dysfunctional relationships and relationship breakdowns. .. The older they get, the less sympathy they get, until you get to the prison situation where you see huge numbers of men who've been severely abused during their childhood, but are now simply labelled as bad.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: The ABC doesn't suggest the difficulties Lyndon Monument and Damian Dignan have suffered in their adult lives should be attributed solely to what they say George Pell did to them. Nor do they claim that. Both men suffered other serious abuse and other personal tragedy.

7.30 understands that the George Pell file has been referred to the Office of Public Prosecutions for advice.

Some of the complaints made to 7.30 and police clearly amount to criminal allegations. Some may never make it to court. Regardless, they do raise a serious question of vital public interest: whether George Pell was ever the appropriate person to drive the Church's response to child sexual abuse and whether he should stand aside from his position at the centre of Church power in the Vatican.

TERRY LAIDLER: I think like everyone, he's entitled to presumptions of innocence on criminal matters, to an assumption of good will on other matters. But I think once something gets to the level of allegations that, you know, on any reasonable standard are worth giving some credit to, no, I think he's got to stand aside.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Damian Dignan and Lyndon Monument have been waiting for a year since they made their police statements last July. They had eagerly anticipated George Pell coming back to Australia to give evidence to the royal commission and hoped police might be able to question him.

NEWSREADER: Royal commission no show. George Pell's lawyers say he's too ill to give evidence in Melbourne next week.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: On December 11, George Pell issued a statement saying he could not fly to Australia on doctor's advice. The royal commission accepted his evidence and the Cardinal did not fly. 

And so, how did you feel when you found out that George Pell had a heart condition?

LYNDON MONUMENT: Shattered. Absolutely shattered.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: While Lyndon Monument and Damian Dignan believe detectives are working hard on the investigation, they worry that even if police have a case that warrants charges, George Pell will never face his accusers because he'll never come back to Australia.

LYNDON MONUMENT: I'm disgusted, bitter, angry. I just want him to come back and look me in the eye.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: None of these people made the decision to speak to 7.30 lightly. They hope that it may encourage others who are silent to feel that they too can come forward.

DAMIAN DIGNAN: I've got to a stage in my mind that I don't really want an apology. Um, I want him to tell my kids why they haven't got a father.

LYNDON MONUMENT: We shouldn't be ashamed of what happened to us. It's not our fault. We've lived with feeling like s**t for too long. We don't have to no more.

SABRA LANE: Louise Milligan with that report, produced by Andy Burns. And if that story has raised concerns for you, remember help is available. You can call Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36. Cardinal Pell's full statement will be on our website soon.

Read Cardinal Pell's full statement here.














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