The child abuse royal commission made secret findings that Cardinal George Pell failed to act on complaints about a paedophile priest when it ‘ought to have been obvious’ for him to do so.
More than 100 previously blacked out pages from two bombshell reports were released on Thursday detailing what Pell knew about complaints against paedophile priest in Ballarat and Melbourne in the 1970s and ’80s.
The reports could only be released after Pell was found not guilty of child sex abuse convictions by the High Court a month ago, and have been heavily redacted since 2017.
In a damning finding, the commission found that as an assistant bishop in the Melbourne diocese in 1989, Pell failed to advise the archbishop to remove paedophile priest Father Peter Searson.
The child abuse royal commission made secret findings that Cardinal George Pell failed to remove a paedophile priest when it ‘ought to have been obvious’ for him to do so
The royal commission heard Father Peter Searson – infamous for his long, yellow fingernails – abused children across three districts
Father Searson had long been the subject of child sex abuse complaints and reports of ‘strange, aggressive and violent conduct’. Pell, as Archbishop, placed him on administrative leave in March 1997.
But the commission said Pell ‘ought reasonably to have concluded that action needed to be taken in relation to Father Searson’ in 1989, after he saw a delegation from a Catholic primary school.
Searson died in 2009 without facing charges, but the commission heard evidence he had abused children over the course of a decade in three separate Victorian districts.
Pell had claimed the Catholic Education Office had failed to brief him properly on the complaints against Father Searson and that it was implied ‘that the allegations could not be sustained’.
But the commission ruled Pell’s evidence was ‘implausible.’
‘We are satisfied that Cardinal Pell’s evidence as to the reasons that the CEO deceived him was implausible.
‘We do not accept that Bishop Pell was deceived, intentionally or otherwise.
‘It was incumbent on Bishop Pell, as an Auxiliary Bishop with responsibilities for the welfare of the children in the Catholic community of his region, to take such action as he could to advocate that Father Searson be removed or suspended or, at least, that a thorough investigation be undertaken of the allegations,’ the report said.
‘(Pell) conceded that, in retrospect, he might have been ‘a bit more pushy’ with all of the parties involved. We do not accept any qualification that this conclusion is only appreciable in retrospect.
‘On the basis of what was known to Bishop Pell in 1989, it ought to have been obvious to him at the time.
‘He should have advised the Archbishop to remove Father Searson and he did not do so.’
Blacked out: How the Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse reports looked before the Government released the details on Thursday
Pell with his one-time housemate, the paedophile priest Gerard Ridsdale
The commission also made findings about Pell’s housemate, the priest Gerard Ridsdale – one of Australia’s worst ever offenders.
The commission found that then-Father Pell had ‘turned his mind to the prudence of Ridsdale taking boys on overnight camps’ by 1973.
The report found ‘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.’
Following his release from prison, Cardinal Pell – the former Vatican Treasurer – said he did not expect negative findings against him.
‘I’d be very surprised if there’s any bad findings against me at all,’ he told commentator Andrew Bolt last month.
Pell gave evidence to the royal commission twice, in 2014, in Sydney, and in 2016, via video link from Rome.
In 2016, Pell told the royal commission he was deceived about paedophile priests, describing it as a ‘world of crimes and cover-ups’.
Cardinal Pell was a Ballarat priest from 1973 until 1984, overseeing the diocese’s schools and at times acting as an adviser to the bishop.
He also served as one of the Melbourne archbishop’s advisers while an auxiliary bishop between 1987 and 1996.
More to follow
WHY ROYAL COMMISSION REPORT IS ONLY BEING RELEASED NOW
The Royal Commission reports were first published in December 2017, months after Cardinal George Pell was charged with child sexual abuse offences.
Details relating to Pell’s knowledge and response to complaints against priests in the 70s and 80s were redacted so not to prejudice the legal process against him.
The Victorian government cleared the way for the secret details to be released after Pell’s convictions were overturned by the High Court last month.
State Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said: ‘The government is not aware of any impediments to the un-redacted versions of these reports being tabled and published at this time.’
The documents were tendered in Federal Parliament about 10am Thursday.