Blog Archives

Child sex abuse inquiry: Police asked repeat abuse victim if she was wearing ‘neon sign’, royal commission hears


Child sex abuse inquiry: Police asked repeat abuse victim if she was wearing ‘neon sign’, royal commission hears

By Pat Stavropoulos and Samantha Donovan
November 25,2015
From the Link: Child sex abuse inquiry: Police asked repeat abuse victim if she was wearing ‘neon sign’, royal commission hears

Pedophile Priest Peter Searson

Pedophile Priest Peter Searson

A survivor of child sex abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest and a family member was asked by police if she was wearing a neon sign saying “come and get me” above her head when she was a teenager, an inquiry has heard.

Witness Julie Stewart broke down as she told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse that she was repeatedly abused by Father Searson at Doveton, from when she was in grade three.

The inquiry heard that when she was 15, she was approached by police about allegations against Father Searson after they received reports she was a possible victim.

She said because she had also been sexually abused by a relative from the ages of five to eight, she found it hard to tell anyone she had also been abused by Father Searson.

She said her admission that she had been abused by two men prompted the police officer to remark “oh my God, what, were you wearing a neon sign above your head, ‘come and get me?'”.

The police took no further action.

She told the inquiry she would blame herself, often thinking there was something wrong with her.

Priest’s abuse began in primary school

Ms Stewart said the abuse began at the Holy Family School, where Father Searson was the parish priest.

She said he would often visit her class and hug the children, including her.

“At first I loved the attention,” she said.

“He was a priest, and it made me feel special.”

Ms Stewart told the royal commission Father Searson abused her between 12 and 14 times, beginning in 1984.

“It began with kisses on the lips,” she said.

“On about the fifth time and on each subsequent occasion, Father Searson also touched me.

“When he started to touch me, I knew it was wrong and it was sexual.”

After that, she said she would wear tracksuit pants or stockings to make it harder for him to touch her.

She told the inquiry the last time she went to confession was in 1985, when she was in grade four.

On that occasion, Father Searson placed her on his lap, so she could feel his erection against her backside.

“He pushed me hard against him. It hurt. He whispered in my ear, ‘you are a good girl, the Lord forgives you’,” she said.

“I snapped, I pushed myself off him, I ran out of the confessional, I was sobbing and hyperventilating.”

‘I will no longer be a victim’: Julie Stewart

Ms Stewart also spoke about how she tried to take her life as a young teenager.

She said she had become rebellious and hated her parents.

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell

It was not until late 1996, or early 1997, after a chance meeting with a former teacher that she was told a Queen’s Counsel had been hired by then Archbishop of Melbourne George Pell to investigate Father Searson.

She said a year later, she received a cheque of $25,000 from the Archdiocese and a letter of apology from Cardinal Pell, through the Melbourne Response.

But she said the hearing to resolve her claim was distressing.

“I was made to sit facing Father Searson, and I was questioned by his lawyer for a long time,” she said.

“I was not prepared for how hostile the cross-examination was.

“I was taken into another room and asked to sign a confidentially agreement. I don’t remember what it said but I signed it. I just wanted to leave.

“When I left the hearing I broke down and cried … I felt that the whole process re-traumatised me.”

She completed her testimony, saying she still cried for the little girl she once was, but that she wanted to be a voice for survivors.

“The little girl that never got to be a normal little girl, doing all the things that little girls should do, the little girl that always wanted to fit in but always felt like a weirdo,” she said.

“Nothing can ever give that back to me. It is a life sentence and every day I make a choice to keep going.

“It is important to me to tell my story now, because I want peace for myself.

“I’m not ashamed anymore and I no longer blame myself. I will no longer be a victim.”

Does George Pell still have questions to answer over his handling of child sexual abuse claims?


Does George Pell still have questions to answer over his handling of child sexual abuse claims?

By Louise Milligan
November 25,2015
From the Link: Does George Pell still have questions to answer over his handling of child sexual abuse claims?

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell is due to re-appear before the Royal Commission next month over his handling of allegations of child sexual abuse. One survivor of abuse gives evidence for the first time and claims George Pell downplayed the conduct of her abuser at a previous parliamentary inquiry.

Transcript of video below:

LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: Next month, Catholic Cardinal George Pell will make his much-anticipated appearance before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

New evidence about the case of Victorian predatory priest Peter Searson raises new questions for Cardinal Pell about how he managed allegations of sexual abuse.

The cardinal has consistently defended his handling of abuse by the clergy, but one victim claims she has evidence he knew far more than he’s let on.

Louise Milligan has the story.

LOUISE MILLIGAN, REPORTER: Julie Stewart is coming back to Melbourne, a place she ran away from almost 20 years ago.

JULIE STEWART: I just wanted it out of my life. We moved to Cairns. Been there ever since.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: What Julie ran away from is the abuse she suffered at her Catholic primary school, Holy Family Doveton in outer Melbourne. Here abused was parish priest, one Peter Searson.

JULIE STEWART: I used to see him on the playground cuddling – he was very affectionate with children and always had a smile on his face.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: One of the milestones at Holy Family that year was Julie’s first confession.

JULIE STEWART: I went to sit on the chair next to him and he said, “Come and sit on my knee.” So of course, I was delighted. “Father’s paying attention to me. Wait till I tell Nana.” And he asked, you know, “Do you love Father?” And I said, “Oh, of course.” I’m thinking the Lord – I love Father, I love the Lord. And he said, “No, no, no, do you love me? I said, “Oh, of course I love you.” And he said, “Give Father a kiss.” So I gave him a kiss on the cheek and he said, “No, no, no, give Father a kiss on the lips,” so I gave him a kiss on the lips and that was just the beginning.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: The abuse escalated over two years every time Julie went to confession.

JULIE STEWART: And then from there, it led to touching and him placing my hand on his private parts and kissing, more kissing and him trying to put his hands inside, um, my, um, my, um, underwear. His face would always light up when I walked in the room. Oof, you know, he’d light up straight away and I was just sickened by it.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Things came to a head when Searson’s abuse became more forceful.

JULIE STEWART: I snapped. And I remember putting my hands on his knees and pushing myself off. And I just turned around and I – I looked at him and he was sort of shocked that I’d done it and I just bolted out.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: She ran sobbing to a teacher and was brought to see the school principal, Graeme Sleeman.

GRAEME SLEEMAN, PRINCIPAL: I heard this child screaming and I ran out of my office. … And she was there and absolutely unconsolable.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Julie hasn’t seen Graeme Sleeman in almost 20 years.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: G’day, Jules. How are ya? Long time no see, eh? You right? It’s not the same as talking on the phone, is it?

LOUISE MILLIGAN: The principal and his former student have come to give evidence to the Royal commission into child sexual abuse about what Peter Searson did and how the Catholic Church failed to act on it. Julie only recently discovered how hard Sleeman fought for her.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: In all my life, I’ve never been frightened of anyone, but Peter Searson scared me, because he was a really, really creepy guy.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Principal Sleeman made it his mission to ensure Searson was punished for what he did to Julie. But his efforts to spur the Catholic Education Office to act went nowhere.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: Oh, they said, “We’ve passed it on, we’ve passed it on.” And they kept constantly telling me, “We do not have – that is not concrete evidence. We need concrete evidence.” I don’t know how much more concrete evidence we could give them.”

LOUISE MILLIGAN: The Church’s failure to take action against Searson led to Graeme Sleeman resigning in 1986.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: The diocese really did not assist me in providing a safe environment for any of the students in that school.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Parents sent dozens of letters supporting Sleeman and begging the Church to remove Father Searson. One letter from a 10-year-old student said, “If anyone should leave, it should be Father, as he sexually assaulted my friend”.

GAIL FURNESS, Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission: No investigation was undertaken. Indeed, there was no serious investigation of any complaint made during the ’80s and early-’90s.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Out of the blue, five years after her abuse when Julie was in high school, Julie received a visit from a police officer in 1990, a police officer who interviewed her about Searson. He seemed determined to prosecute. This is her statement:

JULIE STEWART: As he was leaving, actually, my Dad saw him out and he turned around and he said to my Dad, “We’ll get him.”

LOUISE MILLIGAN: We’ll get Searson.

JULIE STEWART: “We’ll get him. We’ll get him,” is what he said. And then a few days later, he rang and said there, “Wasn’t enough evidence, Julie.”

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Julie also told her high school principal. The principal contacted the detective and called Julie in a week later.

JULIE STEWART: And he said, “Well, there’s not much we can do about it.”

LOUISE MILLIGAN: The week after she spoke to the principal, Father Searson was invited to the high school to give communion to students, including Julie, at mass. She took an overdose of tablets the following week.

JULIE STEWART: I was alone in this whole journey and that’s how I felt totally and broken. … I’ve always felt there was a cover-up.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: It was the evidence of Cardinal George Pell to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry in 2013 that jolted Julie into anger.

QUESTIONER (May 27, 2013): Can you understand how victims regard what happened during this period as there was really hear no evil, see no evil, say nothing about evil from the Church?

GEORGE PELL, CARDINAL: I think that’s an objectionable suggestion with no foundation in the truth and I’ve – as I – no conviction was recorded for Searson on sexual misbehaviour. There might be victims.

JULIE STEWART: That pissed me off.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: “There might be victims.”

JULIE STEWART: Yeah, I was absolutely so angry … and I thought, “Let’s get ’em.”

LOUISE MILLIGAN: Julie Stewart was given a payout by the Catholic Church’s Melbourne response, set up by George Pell. She’s asking why, if George Pell believed only that there might be victims, he sent her this letter in 1998 which accepts that she had been abused:

GEORGE PELL (letter, male voiceover): “On behalf of the Catholic Church and personally, I apologise to you and to those around you for the wrongs and hurt you have suffered at the hands of Father Searson.”

LOUISE MILLIGAN: What do you think about George Pell?

JULIE STEWART: Not very much.

GRAEME SLEEMAN: It would be impossible for him not to know what was happening in Doveton.

LOUISE MILLIGAN: But it wasn’t until 1997 that Searson was finally prosecuted after he hit an altar boy. He was removed from all priestly duties.

Julie Stewart is determined the Church is now called to account for its failures.

JULIE STEWART: I was a victim as a child and I was a little girl, but I’m not gonna be a victim as an adult. And I’ll be buggered if they’re gonna try and shut me down and cover it up anymore.

LEIGH SALES: Louise Milligan reporting.

Video is online with link to story.

Sex abuse royal commission: Angry victim reveals details of Pell letter apologising for suffering at hands of ‘creepy’ paedophile priest


Sex abuse royal commission: Angry victim reveals details of Pell letter apologising for suffering at hands of ‘creepy’ paedophile priest

By Louise Milligan and Andy Burns
November 26,2015
From the Link: Sex abuse royal commission: Angry victim reveals details of Pell letter apologising for suffering at hands of ‘creepy’ paedophile priest

Pedophile Priest Peter Searson

Pedophile Priest Peter Searson

A victim of notorious paedophile priest Peter Searson has revealed the contents of a letter of apology to her from former archbishop George Pell about her abuse.

The letter paints a different picture to the evidence given by Cardinal Pell to a Victorian inquiry in 2013.

Julie Stewart gave evidence on Wednesday morning to the royal commission into child sex abuse about her treatment at the hands of Father Peter Searson at the Doveton Holy Family Parish in outer Melbourne in the 1980s.

The letter, signed by the then-archbishop Pell and written in 1998, accepts that Ms Stewart was abused.

“On behalf of the Catholic Church and personally, I apologise to you and to those around you for the wrongs and hurt you have suffered at the hands of Father Searson,” it says.

But, while being questioned in 2013 by Victorian MP Frank McGuire, Cardinal Pell defended his actions in relation to Searson.

The transcript of his evidence reads: “…No conviction was recorded for Searson for sexual misbehaviour – there might be victims…”

Ms Stewart told 7.30 she was deeply angered by the statement that “there might be victims”, so decided to tell her story to the royal commission for the first time.

“Oh, I was absolutely so angry. And I thought, ‘let’s get ’em’,” she said.

When asked by 7.30 what she thought of Cardinal Pell, she answered: “Not very much.”

Ms Stewart was abused by Searson in 1984 and 1985 at Holy Family when she was nine and 10 years old. The school was a hot spot for a succession of paedophile priests through the 1970s and 1980s.

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal Pell, who has engaged personal legal representation for this royal commission, will reserve the right to cross-examine witnesses, including victims of paedophile clergy, despite a Church decision not to do so.

Evidence will also be heard this week from the principal of the Holy Family School at the time, Graeme Sleeman, who quit in disgust after he says the parish was left unprotected from Searson by the Catholic Church.

“When Searson was sent to me, priests, people, contacted me at the school to say ‘mate, you are getting this crazy guy’,” Mr Sleeman told 730.

“In all my life, I have never been frightened of anyone, but Peter Searson scared me. Because he was a really, really creepy guy.”

The former principal, whose career was left in ruins following Searson’s arrrival at the school, said the Catholic Education Office received numerous complaints about the priest but ignored them.

“They said ‘we’ve passed it on’. And they kept constantly telling me, ‘that is not concrete evidence, we need concrete evidence’. I don’t know how much more concrete evidence we could give them,” Mr Sleeman said.

The commission has received in evidence dozens of letters from the time Mr Sleeman left the school from concerned parents and parishioners who wanted Searson out.

Mr Sleeman told 7.30 the Church failed the students of Holy Family School.

“I signed a contract to be a principal at that school which said I would uphold the teachings of the Catholic Church and I would provide a safe environment for children. And the diocese really did not assist me in providing a safe environment for any of the students in that school,” he said.

The Catholic Church substantiated four complaints of child sexual abuse against Searson. He was also convicted in 1997 of hitting an altar boy. He died in 2009.

Does George Pell still have questions to answer over his handling of child sexual abuse claims? Video.