Pell account unbelievable: Abuse survivors
Child sex abuse survivors say it’s unbelievable a man of Cardinal George Pell’s intelligence was unaware of a pedophile priest’s offending when two Victorian communities and local clergy knew about it.
The cardinal told the child abuse royal commission on Monday night that while he was on a Ballarat diocese committee that advised on the transfers of priests he was never told of the offending of pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale in the 1970s.
Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic, now head of the Vatican Treasury, met the pontiff after his initial grilling by the commission and told reporters before resuming his evidence on Tuesday: “I have the full backing of the Pope”.
By videolink from Hotel Quirinale in Rome he told the commission sitting in Sydney that then Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns and his advisor Monsignor Fiscalini had deceived him by not telling him Ridsdale was moved between parishes because of his offending.
Ridsdale was able to continue his offending as he was shifted from one parish to another as “talk” began among parishioners about his interfering with children.
His nephew David Ridsdale, who was sexually abused by his uncle, is among a group of survivors hearing the cardinal’s evidence in Rome and told reporters it appeared the Catholic Church was behaving “with lies and deceit” within its own structure.
He said he assumed Victorian Police would be taking up the matter in relation to church officials moving pedophile priests to parishes where they could continue their offending.
‘We’ve ended up with the ears of the world’: Abuse survivors adamant fight will go on
The abuse survivors who travelled to Rome to hear his evidence spoke to reporters moments after Cardinal Pell completed his final day on the stand in Rome.
David Ridsdale, a victim of pedophile priest, his uncle Gerald Francis Ridsdale, said the fight for justice was far from over.
“We wanted to make sure the commission [for Cardinal Pell] was the same process that we faced when in Australia,” Mr Ridsdale said.
“We feel that has been achieved. But so much more has happened. We’ve ended up with the ears of the world.
“So, please, understand that while we’re fighting one battle in Ballarat, we’re hoping to steamroll a whole deal more, and this is a worldwide institutional problem, not just the Catholic Church, this went on for so long and everybody knew, everybody knew.
“And it is about time that we addressed the past and look forward to the future, and I can assure you that is the goal of all the survivors that you have met.”
‘In the loop’
On his fourth day on the stand in Rome, Cardinal Pell said he would have been aware of concerns raised by parents from the Victorian parish of Doveton in a 1991 letter to the Catholic Education Office that said Searson was going into the boys’ toilets, watching boys in the shower and taking children into the presbytery without permission.
He said he did not investigate the matter because it was the responsibility of the CEO and the Vicar General.
“If they’d asked my opinion I would have given it,” he said.
He agreed that he was “in the loop as far as knowledge of Father Searson being a risk to children” but said the issue was the level of risk and “just what could be done within church and state law”.
The commission also heard that a student at St Patricks College in Ballarat told Cardinal Pell that Brother Edward Dowlan was “misbehaving” with boys in 1974.
Cardinal Pell said the boy “mentioned it casually in conversation” and did not ask him to do anything.
Asked by Commissioner Peter McClellan what he did with the information, Cardinal Pell replied: “I didn’t do anything about it”.
Eventually, he said, he inquired about the matter with the school chaplain but did not go immediately to the school to find out what was going on.
“With the experience of 40 years later, certainly I would agree that I should have done more,” Cardinal Pell said.
Lawyer Peter O’Brien, representing a former student of the Christian Brothers from Ballarat, asked Cardinal Pell “why on earth” he did not mention the complaint to police or insurance companies involved in cases brought against the Christian Brothers about Dowlan since the 1990s.
Cardinal Pell said it was because he had “no idea that the Christian Brothers were covering up in the way in which it’s now apparent”.
Dowlan continued to abuse dozens of children until 1985 but Cardinal Pell said he could not have done something to stop the crimes.
Pell denies offering bribe to keep abuse victim quiet
Earlier in proceedings, Cardinal Pell denied asking a nephew and victim of pedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale what it would take to keep him quiet.
David Ridsdale told the commission when he told Cardinal Pell in 1993 he had been abused by his uncle, the then Melbourne bishop asked him: “I want to know what it will take to keep you quiet.”
Cardinal Pell said he felt sorry for Ridsdale, but repeatedly denied the claim.
Mr Ridsdale’s lawyer Stephen Odgers SC asked: “Was it the case that you didn’t have much interest in what David Ridsdale told you about the crimes of Gerald Ridsdale?”
Cardinal Pell replied: “That’s completely untrue and David has never claimed that.”
Cardinal Pell said there was a radical misunderstanding between himself and Mr Ridsdale over their 1993 telephone conversation.
“I’m not even sure what keeping quiet means,” Pell said.
“I do dispute that.
“But for a man who was expressing a preference for a church hearing rather than going to the police, I wouldn’t have had any dispute with him on that score, although I have never impeded or discouraged anyone from going to the police.”
Pell said it was a “disastrous coincidence” that five pedophiles ended up at the one Victorian school and parish in the 1970s.
Four pedophile Christian Brothers taught at Ballarat East’s St Alipius Boys’ School and pedophile priest Gerald Francis Ridsdale was the parish priest.
Pell also emphatically denied telling another priest that Fr Gerald Francis Ridsdale was abusing boys.
Former altar boy BWE has testified he overhead Cardinal Pell tell Fr Frank Madden before a funeral in Ballarat in 1983: “Ha, ha, I think Gerry’s been rooting boys again.”
“Let me begin by saying that nearly every detail in this allegation is manifestly false,” Pell said.
Fr Madden has previously told the inquiry Cardinal Pell never said that.
Cardinal Pell also said he deeply regretted the impact the abuse had on survivors’ faith, saying “Of course one of the other things I regret as a Catholic priest is the damage that these crimes do to the faith of the survivors, of the victims and their friends and family and generally throughout the society. I lament that”.
Cardinal Pell told the commission on Wednesday the church in the 1970s and 1980s was a world of crimes and cover ups and he was left in the dark about serious sex abuse allegations against priests and brothers in Ballarat and Melbourne.
Cardinal Pell also said he regretted his choice of words when he told the commission on Tuesday he had no interest in Father Ridsdale’s offending in the mid-1970s.
Cardinal Pell said he completely messed up the sequence of events while giving evidence and had believed he was responding to questions about when he was a Melbourne official in 1993.