George Pell: what the five-year royal commission into child sexual abuse found

George Pell Lied Under Oath

: George Pell: what the five-year royal commission into child sexual abuse found
Author: Christopher Knaus
Publisher: The Guardian
Date: 12JAN2023

The child sexual abuse royal commission in 2020 released a bombshell un-redacted report examining the failings of George Pell during his time as an assistant priest, bishop, auxiliary bishop and cardinal in Australia.

The report found he both knew about child abuse, particularly within the Victorian diocese of Ballarat, and failed to take proper steps to act on complaints about dangerous priests.

The findings – which Pell always disputed – were arrived at after an exhaustive, five-year royal commission.

Here’s what the commission found about Pell’s conduct.

Pell’s knowledge of child abuse by paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale

Gerald Ridsdale is one of the country’s most notorious paedophile priests.

He committed more than 130 offences against children as young as four between the 1960s and 1980s, including while working as a school chaplain at St Alipius boys’ school in Ballarat, and continues to be convicted and sentenced for his crimes, most recently in October.

Pell lived with Ridsdale for a time in the 1970s, accompanied him to court in 1993, and offered to provide character evidence for him.

The royal commission investigated what Pell knew of Ridsdale’s offending while Pell worked in the Ballarat diocese – the centre of Australia’s abuse scandal in the 1970s and 1980s.

It found that, as early as 1973, well before any police investigation, then father Pell had “turned his mind to the prudence of Ridsdale taking boys on overnight camps”.

“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,” the commission found. “By this time, child sexual abuse was on his radar, in relation to not only Monsignor Day but also Ridsdale.”

The commission found that, by 1973, Pell was not only “conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy” but that he had “considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it”.

The commission heard that, almost a decade later, Pell was involved in a meeting of the College of Consultors about whether to move Ridsdale from the Mortlake parish in Ballarat to Sydney.

Pell claimed the more senior Catholic figures in the meeting – namely, then bishop Ronald Mulkearns – had deceived him about the true reasons for moving Ridsdale.

The royal commission rejected Pell’s position.

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The commission found: “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 is implausible given the matters set out above that Bishop Mulkearns did not inform those at the meeting of at least complaints of sexual abuse of children having been made.”

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