A royal commission report tabled in the Australian parliament has found that Cardinal George Pell was aware of child abuse by the clergy as early as the 1970s and failed to act to remove two paedophile priests.
The newly-released information, was redacted from Australia’s Royal Commission into child sexual abuse findings three years ago, in order to avoid prejudicing the trial of Cardinal Pell, who was then charged with child sexual abuse.
Cardinal Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney and Melbourne and the Vatican treasurer, was convicted in 2019, then acquitted last month and released from gaol after more than 400 days behind bars.
This allowed the release of the redacted sections of the Royal Commission's reports.
The newly-released information reveals that child sexual abuse by priests was on Cardinal Pell's "radar" in 1973 and that it "ought to have been obvious" to him during the late 1980s that abuse was being carried out.
The commission found that in the 1970s Cardinal Pell, then a priest in the Archdiocese of Ballarat, in Victoria, was aware of children being sexually abused within that archdiocese, and it was “implausible” that other senior church figures did not tell Pell abuse was occurring.
The report shows the commission rejected Cardinal Pell’s evidence that he had been deceived and lied to by Church officials about Gerald Ridsdale – considered to be one of the country’s worst offending paedophile priests – and Melbourne parish priest Peter Searson.
“We are satisfied that in 1973, Father Pell turned his mind to the prudence of Ridsdale taking boys on overnight camps,” the report said.
“The most likely reason for this, as Cardinal Pell acknowledged, was the possibility that if priests were one-on-one with a child, then they could sexually abuse a child, or at least provoke gossip about such a prospect.
“We are also satisfied that by 1973 Cardinal Pell was not only conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy but had also considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it.”
Journalists received copies of the unredacted Royal Commission report after it was tabled in Parliament.
Ridsdale was convicted of abusing more than 60 boys over decades.
The report said the royal commission was satisfied that Cardinal Pell, as a consultor to then Ballarat bishop Ronald Mulkearns, knew of Ridsdale’s abuse, and that was why Ridsdale was moved from the Victorian town of Mortlake, in the 1980s.
“Cardinal Pell gave evidence that the bishop did not give the true reason for moving Ridsdale – namely his sexual activity with children – and that the bishop lied in not giving the true reason to the consulters. We do not accept that Bishop Mulkearns lied to his consultors,” The report said.
Cardinal Pell gave evidence to the Royal Commission in Sydney in 2014, and again in Rome in 2016.
The newly-released report asserts that in the 1980s when Cardinal Pell was an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne, he should have advocated for another priest, Fr Peter Searson, to be removed.
Fr Searson died in 2009 without facing charges, but the royal commission heard he abused children in parishes and schools across three districts over more than a decade.
A portion of the unredacted report reads: “Then-bishop Pell ought to have removed or suspended Peter Searson after complaints were made about sexual misconduct with children.”
The complaints came from a delegate of teachers who met with Bishop Pell in 1989 and told him about the allegations raised against Fr Searson.
“We found that these matters in combination with the prior allegation of sexual misconduct ought to have indicated to Bishop Pell that Fr Searson needed to be stood down,” the report said.
“It was incumbent upon Bishop Pell as an auxiliary bishop with the responsibility for the welfare of the children in the Catholic community of this region to take such action as he could to advocate that Fr Searson be removed or suspended or at least a thorough investigation be undertaken of the allegations.
“He (Pell) should have advised the Archbishop to remove Fr Searson and he did not do so.”