Royal Commission told to reject evidence from Cardinal Pell

In submissions by counsel assisting to case study 35 into the Melbourne Archdiocese, the child sex abuse royal commission has been told to reject evidence from Cardinal George Pell, the third most senior Catholic in the world, regarding a former priest.

In their submissions to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, counsel assisting Gail Furness SC and Stephen Free said that Cardinal Pell had been involved in moving paedophile priests as a consultor to the Ballarat bishop at the time, Ronald Mulkearns.

Mulkearns oversaw the movement of several paedophile priests, including the notorious Gerard Ridsdale.

“It follows that the conduct of any consultor who agreed to move Ridsdale, or indeed any priest, with knowledge of allegations of child sexual abuse made against them, is unacceptable,” they said.

The submissions have asked that the commission should reject Cardinal Pell’s evidence that he was intentionally deceived by the Catholic Education Office regarding former priest Peter Searson. 

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They submitted the CEO should have done much more to respond to the obvious threat posed by Searson, however there was no evidence any of the officer at any time intentionally concealed from the Archdiocese information that it received about Searson.

“Nor is there any evidence, or logical reason, despite the theory advanced by Cardinal Pell, that the CEO or any of its officers wished to keep Searson in Doveton and were resistant to any moves to the contrary,” they said.

“The matters known to Cardinal Pell on his own evidence…were sufficient that he ought reasonably to have concluded that more serious action needed to be taken in relation to Searson.” 

Ms Furness and Mr Free submitted Cardinal Pell’s failure to take action, like other senior officials in the Archdiocese, missed an important opportunity to recognise and deal with the serious risks posed by Searson.

Counsel for Cardinal Pell responded to the submissions by saying he should be treated with the same level of fairness as any other person involved in the matters being considered by the royal commission.

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“Notwithstanding Bishop Pell had nowhere near the level of knowledge that Victoria Police had about Searson, CA Submissions seek findings against him which are more critical and extensive than any recommended against Victoria Police,” he submitted.

Searson was accused of sexual misconduct and showing a handgun to children among a series of accusations while a parish priest under effective control of now Cardinal Pell.

But the submission argued that Cardinal Pell should be believed over denials he tried to bribe a sex abuse victim.

Counsel assisting say there was no evidence to support the claim that the Cardinal tried to bribe the nephew of Gerald Ridsdale.

The claim has plagued the Cardinal, the world’s third most senior Catholic, since Ridsdale’s nephew told the story to 60 Minutes in 2002.

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David Ridsdale told the royal commission he phoned Pell in 1993 to tell him about the abuse but instead of offering help he tried to silence him.

He said Pell asked “what would it take” for him to keep quiet about the abuse.

Mr Ridsdale said he responded: “F— you George and everything you stand for.”

But Ms Furness and Mr Free said the story should be rejected.

The royal commission does not have to accept the submissions of counsel assisting but it is common in such inquiries to accept – or at the very least be strongly guided – by their words.