September 25, 2018

Get Pell: the facts behind the Royal Commission headlines

The hearing room of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Photo:

The hearing room of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Photo:


In this past week, we heard news that Cardinal George Pell’s testimony before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse would be delayed after his treating cardiologist deemed it unsafe for him to take the long-haul flight back to Australia.

The news prompted the expected reaction from mainstream and social media, with scepticism, scorn and derision being the most popular responses.

There has also been a lot of misinformation being spread, the most serious being that the cardinal sought to delay the giving of his evidence.

This is, of course, untrue.

Allan Myers QC, the lawyer appearing for Cardinal Pell, asked that the cardinal be permitted to provide his evidence via video link. Mr Myers noted that video evidence is used all the time in hearings, particularly for witnesses who would otherwise have to travel a long distance. Indeed, two witnesses appeared via video link before this same hearing in the same week in which the application was made on behalf of Cardinal Pell.

And Gerald Ridsdale, the perpetrator of many of the crimes being looked at in the Ballarat hearings, gave evidence over a number of days via video link in May.

Mr Myers assured the commission that those representing Cardinal Pell were willing to make arrangements for the best quality equipment to be provided so that all mechanical issues which might make evidence via video link difficult would be overcome.

Despite these assurances, Justice Peter McClellan rejected the application, ruling that the complexity of the issues to be addressed and the technical difficulties of providing video evidence made it preferable that the cardinal appear in person, and deferred the giving of evidence until the next sitting in Ballarat in February 2016. Justice McClellan also foreshadowed further delays if the cardinal was still unfit for travel at that time.

This decision is, of course, within the commission’s prerogative. But given that it was the commission, and not Cardinal Pell, who made the ruling, it is incorrect to say that it is the cardinal who is making survivors and others wait for answers.

In all honesty, the notion that anyone is or will be left waiting for answers is somewhat of an exaggeration, given that Cardinal Pell has testified to most of these matters previously, at both the 2013 Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry and at Royal Commission hearings into the archdiocese of Melbourne in August 2014.

There is sufficient evidence already publicly available which provides us with a very clear and comprehensive picture of the response to the allegations made against the cardinal.

These allegations either have been, or will be, tested in the Royal Commission and the Commissioners and those following its proceedings will be privy to the full evidence in relation to these matters. However, most people will only obtain their information from the media reports of these allegations, which necessarily need to be more succinct, but are also often sensationalised in order to attract readers.

The problem is: these matters have great potential to cause scandal and distrust amongst Catholics and others if only a part of the story is published.

Melbourne Response avoided paying up to $62 million to abuse survivors by capping payments 

On Sunday, 6 December 2015, the Sunday Age reported that the Melbourne Response had saved the Catholic Church up to $62 million by capping payments to abuse survivors initially at $50,000 and then at $75,000. The Sunday Age arrived at this figure by comparing the average amount paid under the Melbourne Response ($46,000) to the average amount paid in civil claims ($270,000) and then multiplying the difference between the two by the number of survivors who went through the Melbourne Response.

This analysis ignores a number of key factors, such as the Melbourne Response not requiring a survivor to prove the abuse occurred. It also ignores evidence provided to the Royal Commission about redress schemes run by various state governments for those who suffered abuse in state care. All of this is summarised in the Royal Commission’s final report on redress (refer Table 13 of that document). The document shows that the Queensland Government redress scheme was capped at $40,000 and had an average payment of $13,000, the Tasmanian Government scheme had a cap of $60,000 and an average payment of $30,000, the South Australian scheme has a cap of $50,000 and an average payment of $14,100, and the Western Australian scheme had a cap of $45,000 and an average payment of $23,000.

While reasonable people can and should disagree on the sufficiency of the amounts paid (and indeed, whether any amount of financial compensation would ever be adequate), it is important to consider other comparable schemes in assessing the generosity or otherwise of the Melbourne Response.

It is also worth considering that the Royal Commission itself has recommended a redress scheme which involves three main elements: a direct, personal response from the institution, counselling and psychological care, and a monetary payment (the average payment for which the Royal Commission suggests should be $65,000.) All of these three elements were present in the Melbourne Response from its inception more than 19 years ago.

Cardinal Pell lied about seeing the photograph of Emma Foster 

In its episode on Sunday evening, 6 December 2015, 60 Minutes accused Cardinal Pell of lying to Richard Carleton in a 2002 interview when he said that he had not seen a photograph of Emma Foster after she had slashed her wrists. In that interview, Cardinal Pell said: “I’ve never seen the photo… Well, I don’t believe I’ve seen it. I’ve got no recollection of it.”

Eleven years later, on 27 May 2013, Cardinal Pell was asked this question at the Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry: “When Chrissie and Anthony Foster showed you a photograph of their daughter Emma after she had slashed her wrists, did you respond, and again I quote: “Mmm, she’s changed, hasn’t she?””

Cardinal Pell responded: “Probably, but you’ve got to understand that this was a, the production of this photo was something sudden, and I didn’t have a chance for a considered response.”

60 Minutes said this “bombshell” admission followed “years of denial” by Cardinal Pell.

There are a couple of points to make about this. 

Firstly, it does not appear that there were years of denial by Cardinal Pell. Indeed, I cannot find any public comments by him about this incident between the two interviews recorded above. Years of silence are not equivalent to years of denial.

Additionally, the comments by Cardinal Pell to Richard Carleton in 2002 are not unequivocal. After an initial reaction saying he had not seen the photograph, he immediately reduced the severity of that assertion and said he did not recall seeing it.

Eleven years later, when asked about it, he acknowledged he had been shown the photograph.

It is possible that after reflecting on the question following what was obviously a tense interview (which Cardinal Pell described as an “ambush” in the days following), Cardinal Pell recalled seeing the photo or accepted that it was likely it had been showed to him. 60 Minutes does not even entertain this possibility when it called Cardinal Pell a liar over this issue. Given that he is about to give testimony at the Royal Commission, the naming of him as a liar is at best unfair, at worst defamatory.


Cardinal Pell pictured in a 2014 file photo. Photo: CNS

Cardinal Pell pictured in a 2014 file photo. Photo: CNS

Cardinal Pell tried to bribe David Ridsdale in order to keep him silent 

On the 60 Minutes program on Sunday evening, 6 December 2015 and again in Monday’s Royal Commission proceedings, David Ridsdale alleged that he phoned then- Bishop Pell in February 1993 to tell him that he had been abused by his uncle, Gerald Ridsdale. David Ridsdale told 60 Minutes and the Commission that Bishop Pell asked him: “What will it take to keep you quiet?”

However, in evidence before the Royal Commission on Monday, David Ridsdale said that he was terrified of going public, and asked Bishop Pell if a private process was available which would not include going to the Police.

Additionally, documents provided to the Commission dated 26 January 1993 and 4 February 1993 show that there was a police investigation already underway in relation to Gerald Ridsdale, and this was known amongst those in authority in the Catholic Church.

Under these circumstances, it is not unreasonable to question David Ridsdale’s recollection of the conversation with Cardinal Pell. By his own evidence at Monday’s Commission hearing, Mr Ridsdale had indicated he wanted the matter to be dealt with privately. And Church officials, including Bishop Pell, knew that a Police investigation was underway, so the “purchase” of silence at this point would have been redundant.

But 60 Minutes did not raise these matters at all. They just let the allegation sit there, uncontested.

Cardinal Pell is re-traumatising victims by subjecting them to cross-examination 

The next allegation made in the 60 Minutes program was that Cardinal George Pell was set to “defy” the Catholic Church’s stated position that it would not cross-examine survivor witnesses at the Royal Commission, and that he would subject them to cross-examination. David Ridsdale said on the program that this felt like an attack.

There are a couple of points to be made here.

Firstly, Commissioner Peter McClellan urged the cross-examination of witnesses who had made allegations against Cardinal Pell. In an exchange with lawyers for the Catholic Church’s Truth, Justice and Healing Council on 20 May 2015, Justice McClellan said that the Royal Commission would likely have to make a finding of fact about the allegations made against Cardinal Pell, because they are part of the “institutional response to child sexual abuse” from the Catholic Church. Justice McClellan explained that the consequence of not challenging the evidence from these witnesses would most likely result in the witness being believed and their evidence forming the basis of a finding by the Royal Commission. Given that some of these witnesses are accusing Cardinal Pell of very serious and potentially criminal behaviour, it would be unjust to not cross-examine the witnesses.

Secondly, cross-examination also provides the witnesses themselves with an opportunity to respond to Cardinal Pell’s version of events, which are presented to the witness during the cross-examination.

It is only fair that each survivor witness gets to comment on what Cardinal Pell’s evidence will be.

And finally, in the Royal Commission proceedings dated 25 May 2015, lawyers for Timothy Green and David Ridsdale each told the Royal Commission that their clients were willing to be cross-examined on their evidence. These are the only two witnesses who were recalled by Cardinal Pell’s lawyers for cross-examination.

The hearing room of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Photo:

The hearing room of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Photo:

Key player in the Melbourne response, Professor Richard Ball, has a conflict of interest 

A number of allegations were also made on the 60 Minutes program against Professor Richard Ball.

The first was the “big reveal” which related to two letters sent on the same day regarding Fr Kevin O’Donnell.

But 60 Minutes neglected to report on a third letter – which was the letter which contained the request for Professor Ball to assess O’Donnell in the first place. In that letter, Professor Ball was requested by O’Donnell’s lawyers to provide a report to the Court, and to “limit [his] enquiries and [his] opinion to the issue of the effect the imprisonment would have on [O’Donnell] given his age and his medical condition”. Ball was never asked to provide any information to the court about O’Donnell’s offending history.

Reasonable people can disagree whether Professor Ball should have volunteered this information to the court, but it is worth noting that his assessment of O’Donnell was commissioned by O’Donnell’s lawyers, and not the court. This meant that it was in the discretion of O’Donnell’s lawyers as to whether to submit the document at all or not. It was not within Ball’s capabilities to produce anything to the court himself.

While purporting to show the full suite of documents, 60 Minutes omitted one which puts the issue and the allegations against Professor Ball in more context.

This “big reveal” also led to comments being in the program that there was a conflict of interest in relation to Professor Ball’s role because he was both providing expert evidence for accused Priests and was involved in the provision of counselling to survivors. 

Mr Foster said on the program: “No victim would want to talk to him. Any victim who was sitting in front of a psychiatrist who also had that victim’s perpetrator as a client would be horrified at that. That just is wrong, it is wrong.”

In her comments following, host Tara Brown said that the Fosters were told they were overreacting, and Cardinal Pell was quoted as saying he had absolute confidence in Professor Ball.

This ignores the role description of Professor Ball, which was also part of the evidence before the Royal Commission. In that document, Professor Ball was told: “It is noted that from time to time you provide treatment to priests of the archdiocese. Obviously, you will not have direct contact with persons who claim to be victims of such priests.”

From the very beginning, Professor Ball was instructed to avoid any conflict of interest.

Even so, in its report on the Melbourne Response, the Royal Commission criticised the lack of trust which Professor Ball’s appointment could inspire in survivors because of the perceived conflict of interest. The Commissioners noted in the report that this was a matter of perception and not of Professor Ball’s integrity, which the report said the Commissioners did not doubt.

But 60 Minutes ignored the Commission’s confidence in the integrity of Professor Ball, and chose to accuse him instead.

At this point, I want to pause and note something which I will return to again later. The Royal Commission in its report said that the perception that a conflict of interest exists could seriously challenge a survivor’s trust.

By repeating issues of conflict already dealt with by the Royal Commission as being “new” revelations, and by sensationalising them, calling them duplicitous and saying the potential for conflict had only just been revealed (despite these documents being the subject of a public hearing almost 12 months ago), 60 Minutes is itself inspiring a lack of trust in survivors. And for what end?

As mentioned, the Royal Commission has already dealt with these issues. Let’s hope that 60 Minutes are not promoting an unnecessary lack of trust in persons whose trust has already been so horribly betrayed for the purpose of ratings.

“Independent” Commissioner Peter O’Callaghan is not actually independent 

60 Minutes also accused Independent Commissioner for the Melbourne Response, Peter O’Callaghan QC, of a lack of independence in his role. The basis for this allegation was that Richard Leder, the lawyer used by Mr O’Callaghan is the same lawyer used by the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

In a similar vein to the allegations against Professor Ball, the evidence that Mr Leder acted for the Archdiocese of Melbourne and the Melbourne Response was evidence already the subject of testimony before the Royal Commission hearings for Case Study 16 in August 2014. Indeed, the case of the Foster family (who featured on the 60 Minutes program) was specifically examined in those hearings. Again, despite these being presented as new revelations by 60 Minutes, the matter has long been dealt with by the Royal Commission.

The Royal Commission’s findings in relation to the Melbourne Response said that the arrangement involving Mr Leder raised a clear potential for a conflict of interest, and concluded that the Melbourne Response was not sufficiently independent. The Commission did not, however, say that any outcome was compromised. Instead, the Commission said, the real issue was again perception.

In order to consider whether the outcome was compromised, it would be useful to look at Mr O’Callaghan’s role, and the outcome of his investigations.

Mr O’Callaghan’s role is to make a determination about whether abuse had occurred after receiving a complaint about it. If the complaint was accepted, the matter would then be passed on to CareLink (which provided counselling and other services) and the Compensation Panel.

In evidence before the Royal Commission, it was recorded that Mr O’Callaghan investigated 351 complaints, and accepted 97 per cent of those complaints.

It would be unusual for a Commissioner who, as Tara Brown alleged in the 60 Minutesprogram, “secretly worked against victims” to accept all but a handful of claims. The serious allegation by 60 Minutes does not hold water when you look at Mr O’Callaghan’s record.

And as noted with comments about the allegations against Professor Ball, there is potential harm to be caused to survivors by sensationalising claims of conflict of interest.

Cardinal Pell celebrates Mass at St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, in this file photo. Photo: CNS

Cardinal Pell celebrates Mass at St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney, in this file photo. Photo: CNS

Cardinal Pell ignored a report of abuse by Timothy Green 

Another allegation made against Cardinal Pell and repeated this week in the Royal Commission proceedings on Monday, 7 December 2015 was that he ignored a complaint by a young student about Brother Edward Dowlan molesting boys at St Patrick’s College, Ballarat.

In testimony to the Royal Commission in May 2015 and again on Monday, Mr Timothy Green said that during the 1970s, he was in the swimming pool change room with two other friends and saw then- Fr George Pell. Mr Green said that he told Fr Pell, “Br Dowlan has been touching little boys”, and that Fr Pell said “Don’t be ridiculous”, and walked out of the change room.

In evidence before the Commission on Monday, 7 December 2015, it was noted that one of the friends named by Mr Green who he said was in the change room with him, did not recall the conversation. Additionally, Mr Green said that when he allegedly told Fr Pell about the abuse, he did not see Fr Pell because Mr Green had his back to Fr Pell. It is at least plausible that Fr Pell did not hear Mr Green’s statement, particularly if Mr Green’s own friend who was sitting beside him has given evidence that he did not recall the conversation.

Cardinal Pell joked about the abuse by Gerald Ridsdale to another Priest in 1983 

Another allegation against Cardinal Pell was raised at the Royal Commission on Monday, 7 December 2015, this time by a man given the pseudonym BWE. BWE told the Commission that on Wednesday during the third week of September 1983, he was an altar boy at a requiem Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral for a woman who he believed to be a former parishioner or close friend of then- Fr Pell, who celebrated the Mass. He said that Fr Frank Madden was also present, and that while he was getting ready for Mass with another boy (referred to as BWK), he heard a conversation between Fr Madden and Fr Pell along these lines:

Fr Madden: How are things down your way?

Fr Pell: Ha, ha, I think Gerry’s been rooting boys again.

[Note: “Gerry” is a reference to convicted paedophile, Gerald Ridsdale.]

In many media reports, this is where the story stopped. However, the full proceedings of Monday’s Royal Commission reveal much more.

Firstly, Senior Counsel assisting the Royal Commission, Angus Stewart SC noted that in June 1982, Fr Madden left St Patrick’s Cathedral to become parish Priest of Horsham. Horsham is around 200km from St Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat.

Additionally, Mr Stewart noted that BWK had provided a statement to the Royal Commission. In that statement, BWK said that he could not remember serving a funeral with Fr Pell and Fr Madden. He said that he could not recall ever serving a Mass with BWE, nor could he recall BWE being an altar server because he could not recall seeing him in altar robes. BWK also said that he did not recall hearing the alleged conversation, and considered that he would have remembered because he knew what “rooting” meant and would have gone home to tell his brothers.

A list of funerals which occurred at the Cathedral during 1983 showed that there were only two funerals during September 1983, and BWE did not recognise either name. Mr Duggan, Cardinal Pell’s lawyer, told BWE that Cardinal Pell did not say a requiem Mass in September 1983.

Additionally, in September 1983 (the time the alleged conversation occurred), Gerald Ridsdale was in Maroubra, Sydney and had been since November 1982. Cardinal Pell’s lawyer pointed ou that Ridsdale had not been in Ballarat for the better part of 10 years.

For these reasons, it is unlikely that in response to a question about how things were down his way, Fr Pell would have spoken about Gerald Ridsdale at all.

Fr Frank Madden was also examined by the Royal Commission on Wednesday, 9 December 2015. He told the Commission that he believed it was “poor form” for a priest to return to their previous parish to celebrate or even concelebrate funerals, because ministering to a family in this time was the duty and the privilege of the current parish Priest. He said that he would have returned to St Patrick’s Cathedral, Ballarat, for the funeral of a Priest or the parent of a Priest, and did return once for the funeral of a former colleague, but that was all. Fr Madden also said that he would be very confident there was never an occasion in which he concelebrated a funeral Mass with Cardinal George Pell. He said that he could not remember Cardinal Pell ever celebrating or concelebrating a funeral at the Cathedral at all, except for Monsignor Henry Nolan, but noted there were a lot of Priests there for that Mass.

Fr Madden was asked whether at any time, at the Cathedral and in the context of a funeral Mass or otherwise, Fr Pell had said to him words to the effect of “Gerry’s been rooting little boys again”. Fr Madden responded firmly, saying “absolutely not, no”.

Most of this information was omitted from media reports about this allegation.

Instead, the allegation against Cardinal Pell is presented without the necessary information which could cast doubt on its accuracy.

Cardinal Pell dismissed a boy who came to the presbytery to report an abusive priest 

Another recent allegation is that Cardinal Pell got angry at a student who tried to report abuse to him.

In Tuesday’s Royal Commission, a witness with the pseudonym BWF gave evidence via audio link from prison. He testified that after his brother had been physically and sexually abused by a Brother at St Patrick’s College, BWF went to the presbytery at St Patrick’s Cathedral at about 3.30 or 4pm in the afternoon and asked to see then- Fr Pell. He said that when Fr Pell came to the door, he blurted out that Dowlan had beaten and molested BWG and demanded to know what Fr Pell was going to do about it. He told the Commission that Fr Pell responded: “Young man, how dare you knock on this door and make demands?” and proceeded to argue with him before telling him to go away and shut the door.

Again, this is where much of the media reporting finished on this allegation.

However, the lawyer for Cardinal Pell pointed out that Cardinal Pell did not live at the cathedral presbytery at the time, and instead was living at St Alipius parish, which was kilometres away from the school. Additionally, Cardinal Pell was working full-time at Aquinas College at the time, meaning he would most likely have been at that college during regular working hours.

Given this, it is unlikely that BWF found then- Fr Pell at the Cathedral presbytery as he alleged.

Concluding remarks

This piece isn’t really about trying to defend Cardinal Pell. 

It is instead designed to demonstrate how easily we can be fed only part of the story by media outlets willing to distort or misrepresent the truth, and hopefully it is an encouragement to you to always look behind the sensational headlines to the underlying story.

There is no conflict between abhorring abuse and being concerned for survivors, and also wanting the truth to be presented at the Commission and reported faithfully in the media. Indeed, the desire to distort and cover up the truth is what led us into this mess in the first place.

All lies are harmful.

Survivors are not served by this type of sensationalised reporting.

Some of them, as we have seen in the allegations made in recent days, can associate Cardinal George Pell with the abuse they suffered or reported, because he is so often pointed to by our media as the main culprit in relation to this shameful part of our history.

Other survivors will strongly desire Cardinal Pell to be imprisoned, defrocked or both. They have been fed the idea that justice (and even their healing) is dependent on his demise. What happens to survivors if this doesn’t occur? Will they ever find peace? And do those who are perpetuating the “get Pell” mentality care either way?

For Catholics, we also need to be armed with the truth. If we are going to continue to work alongside our Church leaders to ensure the Catholic Church is a safe environment for all, we need to be convinced that our efforts will be meaningful and not be in vain. Hearing sensationalised allegations does not assist in inspiring confidence in those working for good. Additionally, it could even deter good people from getting involved in issues of child protection. Cardinal Pell instituted the Melbourne Response. Whatever its imperfections, he did something. Will others in the future be reluctant to step up and contribute to addressing an injustice because they fear they will be denigrated in the same manner as Cardinal Pell has been? It is possible.

And finally, whatever your opinion of Cardinal George Pell, surely we can agree that it is unjust for anyone to be the subject of constant innuendo and accusation which is based on half-truths, and when the full story is so readily available in the public domain.

25 Responses to Get Pell: the facts behind the Royal Commission headlines

  1. Brendan Quinn December 15, 2015 at 8:20 pm #

    The key problem is that the Church has failed monumentally to actually communicate its side of the story.

    • Jongwe December 16, 2015 at 10:30 am #

      This is true but a failure not entirely in its own making. If only the church had free and fair access to a “public broadcaster”. The media is saturated with one political and social view, be it on terrorism, climate change or gay marriage. My mum used to often say, “empty vessels make the most noise”, the progressive secularists have proved this old adage correct.

  2. Jeff December 17, 2015 at 2:59 pm #

    quoteThere has also been a lot of misinformation being spread, the most serious being that the cardinal sought to delay the giving of his evidence.

    This is, of course, untrue.

    Quite some months ago I predicted that Cardinal Pell WOULD delay and obfuscate the giving of evidence, this has proven true, I also predicted the health “excuse”, these predictions are based on logic and the standard response from the church to minimize exposure.

    During this year I have tried to politely engage a number of bishops in dialogue, there is little or no engagement, accessing social media pages has resulted in immediate bans from posting.

    10 years of my childhood is largely about living in fear, the fear of abuse, the fear of being raped and molested. I am related by marriage to the now deceased Archbishop Gleeson, another abuser of children.

    I doubt these comments will even make it to your “comments page” but I will add another prediction, George Pell will not appear “live” at the Commission, there will be further obfuscation and “health” issues, while an aging Pope can be flown around the world for photo opportunities the Cardinal is safely ensconced within the protection of the Vatican.

    • Hugh McLoughlin December 19, 2015 at 11:27 pm #

      If instead of trying to preen, pat yourself on the back and hope that we are all going to be terribly impressed by you you had instead devoted a wee bit of time to ascertaining what has actually transpired before the Royal Commission you might have read this by Jane Lee, Legal affairs, health and science reporter of The Age Victoria (but since you obviously either did not read and’or simply could not understand the article upon which you have commented it probably would make no difference to your lack of insight):

      “Chairman of the Royal Commission, Justice Peter McClellan, refused the application, noting that Cardinal Pell had told him in May that he was willing to give evidence if requested.

      He said that the commissioners understood the nature of Cardinal Pell’s health issues and “would not wish to take any step which might exacerbate them”.

      “However given the complexity of the issues involved and the fact that there are two case studies presently before the commission covering an extensive period of time, coupled with the technical difficulties … of the previous video evidence when the Cardinal was in Rome, it is preferable that his evidence be given in person in Australia.”

      The chairman said the commission would defer Cardinal Pell’s evidence till next February, during a planned third hearing in relation to Ballarat “in the hope that the Cardinal’s health will improve”.”

      • Monica Doumit December 21, 2015 at 12:50 pm #

        Hi Hugh

        Not only did I read Ms Lee’s article, but I also watched all of the Royal Commission proceedings and read the documents referred to in the evidence before the Commission.

        I’m not sure how your extract from Ms Lee’s article, or anything else contained in evidence before the Commission. contradicts anything in my piece. If you point out something specific, I will be happy to address it.

        I will not, however, respond to personal attacks. It does nothing to add to the quality of the discussion.

        Many thanks.

  3. Andrew Collins December 17, 2015 at 4:51 pm #

    I am a survivor who has given evidence at the Ballarat hearings. I have attended every day in person. I have had access to all of the background documents, and am known to all of the survivors mentioned as well as most of the clergy. There are a few things that I must take umbrage with.
    Firstly, I am yet to meet any of the survivors who want Pell imprisoned or defrocked. What we want is truth and justice. The background documentation makes compelling reading. After reading it, there is no confusion – the was and still is a culture within the church that has covered up the abuse of children. It wasn’t just in Australia, but world wide. Getting rid of Pell would do nothing to fix this. Indeed it would be of no use as most of the public would assume that the problem was then solved.
    As survivors we know what we know. The truth is and will always be the truth. Our stories have never changed, even under cross examination. Even after years of interviews. Sure there were possible reasons given why some of these things may not have occurred, but none of them eliminated the evidence given. And the sheer numbers of people who have come forward who have said that Pell knew is too large for them all to be telling the truth.
    I don’t care if Pell knew. Confirmation would just be confirmation of the culture. What concerns me is that he has such a senior role in the Vatican, and he is able to now do things about it. All cases of abuse had to be sent to Rome. Send them back to the local authorities so that they can investigate them. Secondly, the church knows the identity of every pedophile. Get rid of them. Liacisation is not enough. Excommunicate them. Jesus himself said that if anyone harms a child that it would be better that they had a millstone tied around their neck and they be cast out to sea. This was the only time that ever advocated death for anyone. There can be so greater sin than the rape of children. And thirdly, take care of victims. If these things can be done, Pell will seen as a hero.
    Then there is the issue of compensation. The Victorian parliamentary Inquiry and the Royal Commission both strongly criticised the Melbourne response and towards healing programs. They traumatised victims and the amounts paid were poor. Victims had no other option as the church cannot be sued due to the Eliis defense. The various victims of crime schemes mentioned are minimum schemes designed to cover victims where the perpetrator is unknown, or cannot be sued civilly. For the Church to model it’s schemes on this is not how one would expect a church to operate. As a Church, they should be paying the sums that are fair and just. To say that no amount of compensation will ever be enough is not an excuse to pay the lowest possible. In fact it should be the reason to pay more. There also needs to be ongoing care and support for those who need it. Look at the James Hardy case, then ask yourself if the Church has a moral obligation to do better than a company.
    Overall the attitude of most of the church figure who have given evidence is not one to be proud of. At no time when asked what they did when they found out about abuse did the say the following:
    Firstly, I called the police, and co-operated fully with them, handing over all the information I had. Secondly, I made sure that the perpetrator was removed from around children. Thirdly, I made sure that the victim and his / her family was helped and taken care of.
    The rape of children has always been a crime. Doing nothing has never been an option that a reasonable person would have taken. If I were to ask you what you would do, I’m sure that you would follow the list above. These people were highly educated, and had positions of power, respect and responsibility within their communities., They knew about duty of care and the legal obligations. More importantly;y they knew as men of God that it was wrong. That is the part that victims struggle with. It’s also forgotten that we are catholic – none of us have ever been excommunicated. This is how the church treated its own, and still does. It needs to do better.Instead of trying to justify the abuses and make up excuses, why isn’t every parishioner demanding the the church fix it? After all, the Church is the people, not a group of men in Rome. People like Bishop Mulkearns and Finnegan need to be sacked. Finnegan was disgraceful on the stand, and there is no excuse for him to stay.
    So my question to all who read this is what are you going to do to fix this problem? It’s your church. Will you let those who abused children to remain in the Church? Will you allow those who are still covering up to keep doing so? Or will you stand up and say; Not in my name! Not in the name of my Church! Not in the name of my Lord!
    At great personal cost we have stood up to tell you what happened to us. Many have taken their own lives. Please don’t let it be all for nothing.

    • Monica Doumit December 17, 2015 at 7:07 pm #

      Hi Andrew

      Thanks for taking the time to read and comment on the article… I appreciate it. I also appreciate your advocacy on behalf of others and I do hope that as a member of the Church, I will be part of the process of truth, justice and healing.

      You’re right in that the attitude of many Church leaders has been disgraceful. The only point on which we differ is that Cardinal Pell belongs in that basket. I think that for two decades, he has tried to be part of the solution and not the problem, however imperfect his attempts might have been.

      Just a quick note of clarification – the compensation schemes I was referring to are not the generic state victims of crime schemes – these are the specific ones which were set up to respond to abuse of children in institutions run by the state – so I think they are an appropriate comparison to Towards Healing and the Melbourne Response.

      Thanks again for this.


    • Dr Rosemary Eileen McHugh December 18, 2015 at 6:00 am #

      As a fellow victim/survivor of clergy sexual abuse, I just wish to praise Andrew Collins for his deeply passionate comment and for his courage in speaking the truth to power. Thank you, Andrew! Well said!

      • Father John George December 21, 2015 at 6:33 pm #

        Monica. Brilliant article–more! more!
        And from The Australian
        “However, David Ridsdale failed to detail in his statement to the commission, the centrepiece of his evidence, how he had groomed the 12-year-old boy in 1984 while working for the YMCA. The Australian has established he used his position as a YMCA activities leader to indecently ­assault the child on two occasions in bushland outside Ballarat, about 100km west of Melbourne.

        The evidence against David Ridsdale, then 18, was that he tricked the boy into joining him on a visit to a local video store but drove him to bushland and then exposed himself. David Ridsdale refused to comment to The Australian, which offered through his lawyers to articulate his full story on the assaults”

  4. Norman Johnson December 17, 2015 at 5:00 pm #

    The simple fact is that the church, like most other such organisations, is a bureaucracy. As such, it has its own way of dealing with people and with criticism. Mainly, it has been seen to be self-protecting for decades, and has not willingly come to these enquiries. Now, Pell and others are forced to confront their personal and organisational failings after denying or obfuscating for years. This no more about god and religion than the murders perpetrated by Islamist extremists. This is about dirty old (and young) men having their way because they were in power.

    • Jeff December 18, 2015 at 8:54 pm #

      In addition that power has been held above all, god given if you like, held above all others, this has attracted pedophiles for decades if not hundreds of years, the hierarchy has protected the pedophiles for an equal number of years.

      The rape of a child is the most abhorrent crime, more so because it is hidden in terms like “abuse” rather than rape. Those who assist in furthering pedophilia are to be despised, how can those in authority continue to move pedophile priests from parish to parish ? simply because it is endemic within the system.

      This has become clear from the royal commission, to make apologetic noises about any Cardinal or Bishop who has assisted moving pedophile priests demonstrates the truth.

    • Father John George December 21, 2015 at 6:44 pm #

      Interestingly-The Australian and now the CW are the only media with this report [Not a word from other media national/international on this alleged incident Utterly amazing]. And the Australian has no normal access for comment on this!

  5. Eugenia Esposito December 21, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

    If the only time that commentators in Catholic media outlets are moved to examine and report on evidence unearthed by the royal commission is in order to defend the reputation of senior clerical figures, can we really say that that the clerical culture that facilitated this scandal has changed?

    This article is well-researched and exhaustive to a point, though it would be more credible if there was some concession that Cardinal Pell has not been particularly heroic in applying strong-arm legal tactics to limit financial exposure (bringing with it the question mark hanging over the instigation of the separate Melbourne Response).

    Greater credibility would flow from even a fraction of the intellectual energy demonstrated in this piece being channelled to reporting on the sordid realities exposed by the commission. Both retired bishop Ronald Mulkearns and current bishop Brian Finnigan, must be thanking their lucky stars for the attention lavished on Cardinal Pell – both from the secular and Catholic media. When the Catholic Weekly devotes even a tenth of the word power given to defending Pell to accurately reporting the action/inaction of these and other officials, and the institutional culture that formed them, it might have chance of its pellwether ministrations being taken as something other than megaphones of the master’s voice.

  6. Ed December 23, 2015 at 2:35 am #

    Hey John George, jump on to Catholica and you’ll get the full story of the Australian’s article.

  7. Father John George December 28, 2015 at 3:33 pm #

    Long after Swan Hill I was saying the rosary along the monastery path at Kensington Sydney, and bumped into then Fr Ridsdale. After introductions and short exchange of polite pleasantries, I continued the rosary totally unaware of his track record These types dont wear signs of their atrocities..He had simply dropped in. I gather at that stage he was working in Sydney as far as I recall.

  8. Mark December 29, 2015 at 7:50 pm #

    “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”

    Your point being, Father?

  9. Mark December 29, 2015 at 7:58 pm #

    This certainly is not a defense of Pell and I certainly don’t want to add to your pain, but I would like to ask you this; if you think Pell is lying about not knowing what Gerald Ridsdale was up to, do you answer doubt the word of former priest turned political reporter Paul Bongiorno? Because he also lived with Ridsdale and says much the same thing. Yet no-one seems to doubt his word.

  10. Mark December 29, 2015 at 7:59 pm #

    Maybe it’s because she is a sinner. Just like everyone who throws stones at her.

  11. Monica Doumit December 31, 2015 at 9:42 pm #

    Hi Brandon

    My work history is publicly available, but not at all relevant. In any event, I would suggest it is more important for readers to assess the article on its merits, and not on the employment background of the author.


    • JL Boyle January 5, 2016 at 1:28 pm #

      Your work history does provide additional information about your background that, in a minor way, fills in a little about you and your likely sympathies, just as a history of working for a firm that represented victims might colour your attitudes in a different shade

      My documentation of the number of times Dr Pell “heard nothing,” “saw nothing,” and “knew nothing” was to draw attention to the stupendous change that he says took place after Archbishop Little’s illness and Pell’s promotion.

      Suddenly everything was clear to then Archbishop Pell and he rapidly designed a “world leading” mechanism to solve the problem, somehow ignoring the work of the ACBC on “Towards Healing”. From total ignorance of the problem, he transformed to a world expert in a matter of weeks!

      There has never been an explanation of the decision to rush out the Melbourne Response that was and is quite different to Towards Healing.

      Though the current Archbishop of Melbourne promised a review of the Melbourne Response in April 2014, and later announced a very constrained review of only the limit for financial “ex gratia compensation.” Nothing further has yet been heard.

      The Royal Commission has not reported favourably about the Melbourne Response, nor has the Commission accepted Dr Pell’s evidence in cases where others recalled events in very different terms.

      A couple of commentators, claim that they, and others, didn’t recognise abusive priests or hear of abuse around a parish – that could certainly be true and reasonable, but it occurred many many times for Dr Pell, most especially when he participated in curia meetings reassigning Ridsdale.

      Then-Bishop Pell certainly knew of problems with Fr Searson, but in that case he uses the defense “it was Archbishop Little’s responsibility, I could do nothing” since in that case the “I knew nothing” defense is impossible.

      • JL Boyle In Good Faith Foundation January 7, 2016 at 3:51 pm #

        My earlier comment was accidentally deleted. I am resubmitting that comment (with very minor editing of typographical errors) though it is now out of sequence:

        Ms Doumit claims that

        “This piece isn’t really about trying to defend Cardinal Pell. It is instead designed to demonstrate how easily we can be fed only part of the story by media outlets willing to distort or misrepresent the truth, and hopefully it is an encouragement to you to always look behind the sensational headlines to the underlying story.”.

        The 4,300 or so words Ms Doumit has written certainly look to me as a committed attempt to defend the Cardinal.

        She certainly does not present anything that could be seen as a full story behind the Cardinal’s involvement in the clerical sexual abuse scandals of Ballarat diocese and the Melbourne and Sydney Archdioceses.

        She does not disclose her background in Corrs Chambers Wesgarth who represented The Cardinal and still represent the Melbourne Archdiocese and have a central role in the Melbourne Response and were heavily criticised by the Royal Commission.

        Ms Doumit feeds her readers only parts of the whole story involved that appear selectively chosen to suit her remit as the leader of “catholictalk” to present a “Catholic commentary” which she appears to believe should reflect a good image of the church leadership (hierachy).

        Some issues Ms Doumit omits to discuss

        • Cardinal Pell makes claims that are difficult to believe:

        o While living in the same house as G Ridsdale, he knew and heard nothing about his depredations;
        o At the same time he also knew and heard nothing derogatory about the other abusers in the group at St Alipius school and parish;
        o He knew and heard nothing critical about Ridsdale when Pell was appointed to Swan Hill soon after Ridsdale left there;
        o Though he lived and worked in the Ballarat Diocese for years he heard nothing about any of the mul-tiple abusers there (Day, Ridsdale, Claffey, Coffey, Farrell, Fitzgerald, Morey, Parker, Ryan, Sheahan, Toomey, Ring, Sproules);
        o Though he participated in various diocesan leadership meetings that led to Ridsdale being moved an extraordinary number of times, Father Pell knew nothing of the reasons.
        Ridsdale’s career moves included Ballarat, Mildura, Swan Hill, Warrnambool, Ballarat East, Apollo Bay, Inglewood, Edenhope, Melbourne, Mortlake, Sydney, Broken Bay, Horsham, USA, and Sydney. Many of those moves were stimulated by specific clerical sexual abuse complaints.

        • School staff and the headmaster at Doveton petitioned then Bishop Pell to ensure that Peter Searson was removed – but nothing was done by the Bishop;

        • Cardinal Pell claims that he knew nothing of abuses in Melbourne ‘till he succeeded Archbishop Little. That seems unbelievable given:

        o Public disquiet was known even to the premier, (but not to an Assistant Bishop?);
        o The Special Issues Committees had been working for years in Melbourne and at the Bishops’ Conference level;
        o The development of Towards Healing was accelerated by Bishop Robinson and reportedly was a major topic at ACBC discussions up to and including 1996;
        o Catholic Church Insurances established “Special Issues” policies that were taken out by most dioceses and by the Melbourne Archdiocese.

        • The Melbourne Response was conceived and designed (incidentally by the same law firm that later employed Ms Doumit) supposedly from July 1996 to October 1996 – allegedly from a “standing start.” That seems unbelievably rapid if Bishop Pell had no knowledge of the issues ‘till Archbishop Little was suddenly taken ill in July 1996.

        The Melbourne Response

        As others have pointed out, a comparison to state redress schemes of last resort for victims of crime is a cop-out for the church which had both moral and ethical responsibility for entrusting children to the care of pastors.

        Cardinal Pell’s comparison to the responsibility of the employer of a truck driver is not only insulting to all priests but demeaning to parents who gave far more trust to the parish priest or other religious than anyone gives to a truckie (who may be generally a trustworthy individual as are almost all priests).

        The suggestion that the Melbourne Response addresses the three elements of the Royal Commission’s recommendations for a redress scheme is a simplistic nonsense. It ignores the imbedded difficulties in-herent in the Melbourne Response as criticised by the Royal Commission:

        • There is no real independence within the Melbourne Response, most especially in the roles of the legal counsel (Corrs Chambers Wesgarth) and the Independent Commissioner;

        • There is scope for serious conflict of interest in the dual role of legal counsel acting for the Archdiocese while advising functionaries in the supposedly independent Melbourne Response;

        • The clear evidence of at least attempted violation of privacy between Mr O’Callaghan and Mr Leder re-garding the intentions of the Fosters;

        • There are no clearly defined protocols followed by the Independent Commissioner;

        • Many would see the limited provision of support by Carelink, typically in batches of 10 sessions of treatment before re-justification was needed as a form of gate-keeping to limit and constrain costs;

        • Few would ever regard a form letter from the Archbishop, as a direct personal response by the church.

        Those form-letter apologies were never given at the time a complaint was received or even when abuse was recognised, but only after a victim accepted an ex-gratia payment without negotiation;

        Richard Ball – evidence

        Ms Doumit deflects discussion on this issue by irrelevance.

        Dr Ball’s evidence regarding O’Donnell’s offending history appears to seriously contradict his letter to O’Donnell’s lawyers. That is the simple and fundamental issue involved – were Dr Ball and the lawyers presenting evidence to the court consistent with their own knowledge and was that evidence truthful?
        It appears not.

        It is irrelevant if Ball’s evidence extended beyond the scope O’Donnell’s lawyers had asked him to cover.

        Richard Ball – conflict of interest

        Any confidence expressed in Dr Ball’s integrity and the documentation that he was instructed to avoid any conflict of interest are further irrelevancies.

        The point indicated by the Fosters would be obvious to most – that a history of treating abusers and presenting professional judgements to their benefit would be perceived as a direct and serious conflict of interest by any victim.

        It astounds many who have examined the Melbourne Response that Archbishop Pell would appoint Dr Ball to head Carelink after he, Archbishop Pell, had previously appointed Dr Ball to lead and run the Melbourne part of a secret treatment centre for clerical sex abusers. (Follow-up note:- I’m uncertain that Ball was appointed to the job by Archbishop pell or by his predecessor).

        Dr Ball’s expertise and professional interests were quite recognisably in issues of sexual aberration and abnormality, relevant to treatment of abusers and those with “gender dysphoria,” but totally irrelevant to the care and treatment of those suffering post-traumatic traumae as sex abuse victims.

        Betrayal of trust

        Ms Doumit writes:

        Let’s hope that 60 Minutes are not promoting an unnecessary lack of trust in persons whose trust has al-ready been so horribly betrayed for the purpose of ratings. Let’s hope that 60 Minutes are not promoting an unnecessary lack of trust in persons whose trust has already been so horribly betrayed for the purpose of ratings.

        I would suggest that victims would be, and are, far more concerned, at the infinitely more significant betrayal of trust by those hierarchs who did so little, frequently nothing, to protect children from abusers who were known as such by various bishops and archbishops.

        Ms Doumit does not mention that betrayal of trust.

        Mr O’Callaghan’s role

        It is interesting that 97% of complaints were accepted as valid – that gives the lie to arguments elsewhere that false claims are rife in any redress scheme.

        However, if an important, even if not primary, purpose of the Melbourne Response were to settle as many cases as possible at minimal cost, then a system that accepted any reasonable complaint with even minimal evidence, then led the complainant to a low-cost ex-gratia payment and minimal cost treatment under the control of the Archdiocese would be most effective.

        Given that costs of accepting a victim’s complaint was relatively low, the Melbourne Response appears to have been a most cost-effective scheme for the Archdiocese.

        It can be noted that the expenditure on “Independent Commissioner” and “Special Issues Legal” costs from 1996 to 2014 was disclosed as $12,503,713 which substantially exceeded the $9,723,570 paid as ex-gratia amounts to victims.
        That raises a question – who benefitted most from the Melbourne Response, the victims or lawyers working for the Archdiocese?

        Other evidence: Timothy Green, BWE, BWF and BWK

        In each of these cases, intense challenges on particular details of the witnesses’ evidence has succeeded on throwing some doubt on particularities of each recollection. This is not unusual as evidence on long distant events is often imprecise and specific details can readily be misremembered – both by those whose evidence supports Cardinal Pell (like Fr Walshe) or is critical of the Cardinal and other church leaders.

        That was also the case for recollections regarding, for example, interactions between the Fosters and George Pell. In some cases the Royal Commissioners preferred to believe other witnesses in preference to Dr Pell, even when he was supported by his friend Archbishop Hart.

        Fair evaluation of each case is appropriate, but doubt concerning each item of evidence does not justify doubt or rejection of similar evidence nor does it support antagonistic evidence.

        In Comments and responses to the article
        Ms Duomit writes:

        You’re right in that the attitude of many Church leaders has been disgraceful. The only point on which we differ is that Cardinal Pell belongs in that basket. I think that for two decades, he has tried to be part of the solution and not the problem, however imperfect his attempts might have been.

        Ms Duomit writes:

        “For Catholics, we also need to be armed with the truth.”

        I agree. However the truth needs to be evaluated according to available evidence in the context of fundamental questions such as:

        • What did happen regarding clerical sexual abuse and the concealment of those crimes in the relevant period?
        • Were the hierarchical leaders really unaware of the crimes?
        • Were they concealing them, protecting criminals and endangering generations of children and particu-larly youths ?
        • Were “whisteblowers” systematically attacked and abused themselves?
        • Were these processes driven by policies established by canon law procedures imposing secrecy on such issues?
        • Was that secrecy strengthened by a culture of “at all costs, avoid scandal” – that is “protect the “good name of the church” i.e. its public reputation?
        • Why and how was a culture that concealed appalling crimes begun and developed?
        • What openness has been established in any part of the Catholic Church in Australia?
        • Has any diocese published a list of known abusers and the locations where offences are acknowledged?
        • Has that culture of concealment really been changed by paper statements, internally administered policies and protocols?
        • Is any independent verification undertaken as occurs in some other locations?
        • Would any changes have occurred without public outcry and public examinations like the Victorian Inquiry and the Royal Commission?

        Unless and until such questions, and many similar ones, are answered more honestly that has yet happened, we will not have the truth that Ms Duomit and I would want.

        In response to Andrew Collins

        Ina reply to a comment on her article, Ms Duomit writes:

        You’re right in that the attitude of many Church leaders has been disgraceful. The only point on which we differ is that Cardinal Pell belongs in that basket. I think that for two decades, he has tried to be part of the solution and not the problem, however imperfect his attempts might have been.

        Those who have experienced the Melbourne Response, as my deceased brother did, and I and my family still do, would not agree.

        We have been shunned and abused at every step.

        The abuse my brother suffered at the hands of Carelink was appalling – should any victim of anal rape be asked:

        “Did it hurt?” (transcript of Dr Ball’s interview is available)

        Should a person who became a severe alcoholic, almost certainly as a result of abuse, be asked during an “evaluation interview”:

        “Did you ever vomit or shit blood?” (again, a transcript is available)

        So Monica Duomit – I ask you to understand that my opinion differs from yours.

        I do not believe that George Pell’s attempts to “be part of the solution” were merely “imperfect.”

        I believe his Melbourne Response was a worse problem than even the original abuse because it coldly and deliberately inflicted damage on already suffering victims.

        That damage was sometimes terminal – I believe that my brother lost all will to live after dealing with the Melbourne Response and then fatally neglected his own health and descended into a state where his only sustenance was 16 litres of wine per week. He neglected fatal lung cancer and his death was a race between the cancer and alcoholism.

        I end my response to Monica Duomit by quoting what were almost the last words spoken by my brother, in reference to his experience of George Pell’s Melbourne Response:

        “I want all this to go public. They just didn’t care.”

        • Renato Alessio February 25, 2016 at 3:32 am #

          To JL Boyle,
          You write,
          “Cardinal Pell makes claims that are difficult to believe:

          While living in the same house as G Ridsdale, he knew and heard nothing about his depredations”

          In my opinion, it is inconceivable that someone who has followed this issue as you have, would not be aware that another priest was in the residence at the time – namely ABC and Channel 10 former Canberra Press Gallery journalist Paul Bongiorno – who adamantly denies any knowledge of Ridsdale’s activities. And as Paul Bongiorno is of a progessive persuasion, he is believed by the media, while Cardinal Pell who is of a conservative persuasion is disbelieved by yourself and the media – over the exact same thing. In my opinion, you are slandering Cardinal Pell’s reputation on the basis of your wilful ignorance.

          You claim that Ms Doumit doesn’t present all the facts and that she deflects discussion. Well, when I read her piece I see a lot of facts backed up by reference to legal proceedings. When I read your piece I don’t see you demonstrating that any of her facts are wrong. And I don’t see you supplying additional facts that in any way alter what she has written. Instead I see a lot of questions and other unsupported speculations raised by yourself – which prove zilch.

          In my opinion, if you are trying to wreck someone’s reputation you had better present facts to support your contention rather than the unsupported speculation and tripe that you have presented, as somehow being akin to facts.

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