Cardinal Pell rejects redacted statements

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Cardinal George Pell reads a statement to media in front of the Hotel Quirinale in Rome on 3 March 2016. Cardinal Pell met Australian survivors of clerical sexual abuse who were at the hotel during his testimony via video link to Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. PHOTO: CNS/Paul Haring

Royal Commission views “not supported” by evidence

Cardinal George Pell has rejected statements of the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse that he must have known about notorious paedophile priest Gerard Risdale following the release of redacted reports on 7 May.

In a statement a spokesperson for the cardinal said he was surprised by some of the views of the Royal Commission about his actions.

“These views are not supported by evidence,” the spokesperson said. “He is especially surprised by the statements in the report about the earlier transfers of Gerald Ridsdale discussed by the Ballarat Diocesan Consultors in 1977 and 82.

“The Consultors who gave evidence on the meetings in 1977 and 1982 either said they did not learn of Ridsdale’s offending against children until much later or they had no recollection of what was discussed. None said they were made aware of Ridsdale’s offending at these meetings.

“The-then Fr Pell left the Diocese of Ballarat and therefore his position as a consultor at the end of 1984.”

The previously heavily-redacted reports reveal that the Royal Commission accepted the advice of the counsel assisting its inquiry that the cardinal was deliberately involved in moving serial abuser Gerald Ridsdale between parishes while was serving as a consultor to Bishop Ronald Mulkearns.

Cardinal George Pell is pictured in a screen grab during an interview that aired April 14 on Sky News Australia. IMAGE: CNS screenshot

The Commission said it was “satisfied that by 1973 Cardinal Pell was not only conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy but that he also had considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it”.

“We do not accept that Bishop Pell was deceived, intentionally or otherwise,” read the formerly redacted report. “It is implausible given the matters set out … that Bishop [Ronald] Mulkearns did not inform those at the meeting of at least complaints of sexual abuse of children having been made.”

“We do not accept that Bishop Pell was deceived, intentionally or otherwise.”

The Commission also found that Cardinal Pell, 78, should have done more to remove the abusive Melbourne parish priest Peter Searson from ministry in 1989, and that he failed to adequately deal with claims of sex abuse at St Patrick’s College in Ballarat during the 1970s.

Regarding Fr Searson, Cardinal Pell’s spokesperson said that as an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne 1987-1996, the then-Bishop Pell met with a delegation from Doveton Parish in 1989 which did not mention sexual assaults and did not ask for Searson’s removal.

“Appointed Archbishop of Melbourne on 16 August 1996, Archbishop Pell placed Fr Searson on administrative leave in March 1997 and removed him from the parish on 15 May 1997,” the statement read.

The Royal Commission delivered its final report in late 2017 after a five-year inquiry, with heavily blacked-out sections relating to the Archdiocese of Melbourne and Diocese of Ballarat where the cardinal served as a priest and auxiliary bishop.

The redacted comments were in relation to how much it believed the cardinal knew about cases of abuse of children within the Church in those areas.

This was in order not to prejudice his trial for historical abuse allegations. Following the High Court decision to overturn his convictions for child sexual abuse and release the cardinal, Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter was asked to release the unredacted reports.

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Cardinal Pell and the Victorian criminal justice system
UPDATE: Cardinal Pell set free by High Court