Thursday, 7 May 2020

Catholic Abuse News - Pell Knew About Child Sex Abuse

Cardinal George Pell speaking to the media at the in Rome in 2016 after giving evidence via video-link to Australia’s royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse.

Photograph: Andreas Solaro/AFP/Getty Images
George Pell: cardinal was aware of children being sexually abused, royal commission report finds | Australia news | The Guardian

According to this report in today's Guardian, The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, has released previously redacted sections of their report which show that Cardinal Pell knew of instances of child abuse.

Pell was recently acquitted by the Australian High Court following his conviction and imprisonment for the sexual abuse of two choir boys, despite his defence lawyer arguing for leniency in the original sentence, on the grounds that the sex was 'vanilla sex' where penetration was brief and didn't result in ejaculation.

A jubilant Pope Francis greeted his acquittal by comparing Pell to 'persecuted but innocent' Jesus. Before stepping down to return to Australia to face trial, Pell was Pope Francis' financial controller and regarded as number 3 in the Vatican Curia. He was appointed to the post despite persistent rumours that he had been a predatory paedophile in Australia on his way up to the top in the Australian Catholic Church. With his position in the Vatican, he would have been a favourite to succeed Pope Francis when the job became vacant.

The Royal Commission has released more than 100 pages detailing Pell's involvement in the cover-up of. The original report had been tabled to the Australian Parliament last December but the section dealing with Pell's involvement had been redacted for legal reasons, to avoid prejudicing the jury in the (then) ongoing judicial process. Pell's acquittal by the High Court has now removed those restrictions.

The un-redacted section of the report says (Page 13):

Father Peter Searson
Father Peter Searson was born in 1923 and was ordained as a priest in 1962.

Father Searson was the subject of many complaints over the years, mostly in relation to his conduct in the parishes of Doveton and Sunbury. In addition to some complaints of child sexual abuse, other complaints were made about his unpleasant, strange, aggressive and violent conduct.
He was placed on administrative leave by Archbishop George Pell in March 1997. That year, he pleaded guilty to physically assaulting a child, but he was never charged with child sexual abuse.

He died in June 2009. He was not laicised.

Complaints against Searson included the rape of a young woman, giving 'sex lessons' to individual students in his bedroom, sexually molesting a young girl during 'confession' and pointing a handgun at two people.

Pell denied being given details of these complaints when he met a delegation of concerned teachers and attempted to blame their leader. The Royal Commission found this to be implausible:

Delegation to Bishop Pell
In November 1989, Bishop George Pell, then an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese, received a delegation of teachers from Holy Family School. Prior to receiving the delegation, he was provided with a list of incidents and grievances about Father Searson that the staff had prepared. He also met with Mr Norm Lalor, the CEO chairperson for primary staff, prior to the delegation.

Cardinal Pell’s evidence was that, despite his request for a briefing, Mr Lalor did not take him through, in ‘any comprehensive way at all’, the CEO’s dealings with Father Searson and the complaints against him. Cardinal Pell told us that he and Mr Lalor discussed the list of grievances and Mr Sleeman’s resignation. Cardinal Pell said he might have been told ‘in a non-specific way’ that part of the story behind Mr Sleeman’s resignation was that he had raised complaints of sexual misconduct by Father Searson. Cardinal Pell said that the implication was that the allegations could not be sustained.

The effect of Cardinal Pell’s evidence, which he expressly acknowledged, was that the CEO (through Mr Lalor) deceived him because they did not tell him what they knew about Father Searson’s misbehaviour.

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. We are satisfied that, on the basis of the matters known to Bishop Pell on his own evidence (being the matters on the list of incidents and grievances and the ‘non-specific’ allegation of sexual misconduct), he ought reasonably to have concluded that action needed to be taken in relation to Father Searson.

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. It was the same responsibility that attached to other Auxiliary Bishops and the Vicar General when they received complaints.

As Auxiliary Bishop to the Archbishop, Bishop Pell had the capacity and opportunity to urge the Archbishop to take action against Father Searson in order to protect the children of the parish and the Catholic community of his region. Cardinal Pell’s evidence was that he could not recall recommending a particular course of action to the Archbishop. He 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.


In other words, Pell, then Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese of Ballarat, failed in his duty of care for his parishioners and lied under oath to the Royal Commission, seeking to blame the leader of the delegation of teachers from Searson's school, which informed him of the allegations against Searson. Even in front of the Royal Commission, Pell was seeking to cover up his (and the Catholic Church's) failure to take effective action against a predatory paedophile priest and seek redress for his victims.

Later on (page 30) we read that:

Criminal proceedings
We are satisfied that the Curia knew in August 1996 that Father Baker would probably be charged in relation to an incident at Brighton in 1965. We are satisfied that Archbishop Pell, Bishop O’Connell, Monsignor Connors, Monsignor Deakin, Mr Exell and Father Waters were at the meeting where this was discussed.

Archbishop Pell had the authority to remove Father Baker. Despite that knowledge, Archbishop Pell did not stand down Father Baker at that point in time. Father Baker remained in his position at North Richmond – a parish with a primary school attached to it – until May 1997.

Father Baker was a predatory paedophile who admitted abusing a boy (known as BTL) but against whom no action had been taken. It was to be another 11 years following his conviction before he was 'laicised'.

The report is scathing in its criticism of Cardinal Pell:

Bishop Pell’s conduct
We are satisfied that, on the basis of the matters known to Bishop Pell on his own evidence (being the matters on the list of incidents and grievances and the ‘non-specific’ allegation of sexual misconduct), he ought reasonably to have concluded that action needed to be taken in relation to Father Searson.

Counsel for Cardinal Pell submitted that the context of the meeting was important in assessing the response. They pointed to the fact that it was a matter of workplace relations, set up by the union representative to deal with the grievances of staff, and not one dealing with allegations of child sexual abuse. They submitted that it was the teachers who were dealing with Father Searson on a day-to-day basis and who instigated the meeting. For those reasons, the teachers’ attitudes at the meeting were the best gauge of the nature and seriousness of the grievances conveyed. The fact that the teachers framed their concerns primarily for Father Searson’s welfare and wanted him to be given a second chance, counsel said, ‘speaks volumes’.

We accept that those matters should be taken into account and we have done so. The attitude of the teachers is a relevant consideration, but it was not the only consideration. The evidence of Mrs Stack was that the staff’s reticence to suggest Father Searson be removed was because of their relationship to him as employees and the fact that they believed their jobs could be at risk.

Bishop Pell was in a senior position within the Archdiocese. He had previously been the bishop’s representative for all areas of education (the Episcopal Vicar of Education) in the Ballarat diocese. The staff came as a delegation to him as an Auxiliary Bishop to complain about their employer. The sensitivities this presented should have been apparent to him. Rather, his response to Mr Palmer when the staff requested Father Searson be given a second chance (‘Your evidence seems to have disappeared Mr Palmer’) was dismissive.

Further, Bishop Pell was still required to exercise his independent judgment on the complaints before him. Regardless of the action the staff proposed, the incidents on the list of grievances indicated that Father Searson was obstructive and confrontational with staff. He had displayed cruelty to an animal in front of children and shown them a dead body in a coffin. There was a suggestion of sexual impropriety in that Father Searson was using the boys’ toilets unnecessarily, even if he had offered an explanation for that conduct. Mr Stack told Bishop Pell that Father Searson was mentally unwell and that something needed to be done. These matters, in combination with the prior allegation of sexual misconduct, ought to have indicated to Bishop Pell that Father Searson needed to be stood down.

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. It was the same responsibility that attached to other Auxiliary Bishops and the Vicar General when they received complaints.

Bishop Pell was the Auxiliary Bishop to the Archbishop. He had the capacity and opportunity to urge the Archbishop to take action against Father Searson in order to protect the children of the parish and the Catholic community of his region. Cardinal Pell’s evidence was that he could not recall recommending a particular course of action to the Archbishop. He conceded that, in retrospect, he might have been ‘a bit more pushy’ with all 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.


In May, 2018, Archbishop Philip Wilson, Archbishop of Adelaide, News South Wales, Australia, was convicted of covering up the child sex abuses of his friend and colleague, James Patrick Fletcher. He was sentenced to spend a year living with his sister under 'house arrest'.

It remains to be seen whether Cardinal Pell will now be charged with a similar offence in relation to Father Searson and others, and for committing perjury under oath before the Royal Commission.







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