Cardinal George Pell says he was “surprised” at some of the views expressed by Australia’s Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. In a statement, the Cardinal said, “These views are not supported by the evidence”.
Although the Royal Commission’s delivered its Final Report to Parliament in December 2017, findings related to Cardinal Pell had been redacted due to ongoing legal proceedings. The case against Cardinal Pell was concluded on 7 April 2020, when the Australian High Court overturned his conviction, saying the evidence produced at his trial “did not establish guilt to the requisite standard of proof".
The newly released findings from the Royal Commission are critical of Pell’s involvement in several cases involving notorious instances of clerical abuse primarily in the 1970s and 80s.
Statements from Melbourne and Ballarat
Both the Archbishop of Melbourne and the Bishop of Ballarat issued statements on Thursday following the publication of the previously redacted material from the final report.
The current Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli, said, “It is good that all the material from Case 35 of the Royal Commission into the Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has now been made fully available”. Bishop Paul Bird of Ballarat echoed that statement .
In his statement, Archbishop Comensoli once again apologized unreservedly “for the failure of the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne to responsibly care for and protect our young people and vulnerable adults”. Bishop Bird likewise acknowledged “the past failings in governance in the Diocese that allowed the terrible abuse of so many children who were entitled to feel safe in their interactions with the church”, as well as “the tragic consequences of that abuse to those abused and their families”.
Both Bishops re-iterated the Church’s commitment to ensure the safety of children and vulnerable persons. “Child safety and care is not a project with an end date”, said Archbishop Comensoli. “It requires life-long vigilance”.
Statement by Cardinal Pell
In a separate statement also issued on Thursday, Cardinal Pell said he was “especially” surprised by statements in the final report concerning the case of George Ridsdale, a priest who committed more than 130 acts of abuse against children over the course of several decades beginning in the 1960s. Diocesan officials, including Pell, were involved in decisions to transfer Ridsdale between parishes. The Commission looked especially at two personnel meetings, which took place in 1977 and 1982. The Cardinal’s statement notes evidence presented to the Commission that Ridsdale’s offences were not known to officials at the time those decisions were made. Pell left the diocese in 1984.
Cardinal Pell also took issue with the final report’s views with regard to the Peter Searson case while Pell was an Auxiliary Bishop in the Archdiocese of Melbourne. Searson was accused of abusing children in parishes and schools over more than a decade beginning in the 1960s. He was never formally charged, however, on the basis of those allegations. Pell says that he met in 1989 with a delegation from a parish at which Searson was assigned. No mention was made of sexual assaults, and the delegation did not ask for Searson’s removal, Pell’s statement says. Pell adds that shortly after being named Archbishop of Melbourne in 1996, he placed Searson on administrative leave, and removed him from the parish less than two months later, in May 1997.
This story is developing and may be updated.