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What George Pell knew...

Jun 22, 2020 • 16m 58s

As the final pages of the royal commission into child sexual abuse have been unredacted, it’s become clear what George Pell knew and when.

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What George Pell knew...

248 • Jun 22, 2020

What George Pell knew...

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am.

As the final pages of the Royal Commission into child sexual abuse have been unredacted, its become clear what George Pell knew, and when.

But for all of the Commission's findings, no priest has ever been successfully pursued for failing to report child abuse.

Today - writer for The Monthly magazine, Anne Manne, on what is possibly the last installment in the George Pell saga.

And a warning - this episode contains descriptions of abuse.


RUBY:

Anne, this story begins with one of Australia's most notorious paedophile priests, Gerald Ridsdale… Can you tell me about when his offending began?

ANNE:

His offending began in Ballarat as early as 1961 when he was first ordained.

Archival tape -- reporter:

A prolific pedophile on a scale that makes him one of the worst perpetrators of church-led abuse Australia has ever seen.

ANNE:

And he went on to sexually abuse children, including the worst forms of abuse, all over Victoria until at least 1988.

Archival tape --

The 83-year-old was a relentless predator throughout his time as a leader within the Catholic church…

ANNE:

And some of the places where he abused were Ballarat, Mildura, Swan Hill, Warrnambool, Apollo Bay, Inglewood, Edenhope, Mortlake, Horsham...

Archival tape --

He insisted his victims stay quiet, and even told one boy: “Don’t tell your mum or dad, or your dad could die”.

ANNE:

And he even abused children when he was under so-called treatment in the Melbourne suburb of Elsternwick and in Sydney and in Jamous Springs, New Mexico when he was sent there.

RUBY:

Can you tell me then about what Ridsdale has been convicted of?

ANNE:

So far he has been convicted for abusing 69 children and 179 offenses against them. As recently as May 14th of this year he pleaded guilty to further sexual offenses against children in the 1970s.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Many of his victims sat bravely in court today as the frail prisoner admitted to dozens more attacks on young children.

ANNE:

And that extended his then sentence, which was serving a 33 year sentence. The judge gave him another 10 years but some of them served concurrently.

Archival tape -- reporter:

The county court judge has been brought to tears as the nature of the abuse at the hands of notorious pedophile priest Gerald Risdale was detailed…

ANNE:

Some of the offending, I think people do understand this, but I think it's important to record just how serious the offending was. So to give you just one example of Ridsdale’s behavior, in Judge Mullaly's judgment, he describes how Ridsdale took a 12-year-old boy to Apollo Bay in Victoria during the Christmas holidays of 1974. And he, in the course of that holiday, gave the boy a lot of beer, more than four cans of beer, and made him very drunk. And then the boy woke up in his bed naked and he found Ridsdale was raping him.

RUBY:

And can you explain to me how was Ridsdale able to commit these crimes for such a long time? Because we're talking about more than 30 years here without any repercussions.

ANNE:

The key reason is that Bishop Ronald Mulkearns of the Ballarat Diocese found ways of simply sending Ridsdale onto new parishes, not doing anything about it or sending him off for, inverted commas, treatment.

But he was also helped by the inaction of the advisory body that he would tell about moves or priests called the College of Consultors.

So Cardinal Pell was a member of the College of Consultors in 1982 when they had to move Ridsdale suddenly from Mortlake. And in Mortlake, Ridsdale himself later admitted he’d been completely out of control and had abused large numbers of children. So his offending was blatant and he had to be moved out of Mortlake after various complaints.

So Bishop Mulkearns would have discussed under the euphemism of ‘staffing’ why Gerald Ridsdale was having to be moved so many times. And it would have raised or should have raised a red flag.

RUBY:

And so what do we know about what the College of Consultors was told about Ridsdale?

ANNE:

Well, Cardinal Pell had denied to the royal commission that the College of Consultors was ever told of the real reason that Ridsdale had moved and that Mulkearns deceived him along with various other people deceived him.

But the royal commission did not accept that George Pell or any College of Consultors didn't know, or that wasn't discussed.

The royal commission, we should just say here, that after Cardinal Pell was acquitted by the High Court of sexually abusing a choir boy, then it became possible for the royal commission to release its unredacted findings.

So we could actually see what they had concluded through their careful evaluation of the evidence and cross-examining Cardinal Pell and cross-examining Bishop Mulkearns. Even Ridsdale was cross-examined. You know, many, many people were drawn into the royal commission to give evidence.

RUBY:

And what exactly was revealed when those findings were unredacted?

ANNE:

The royal commission, after carefully evaluating the evidence, they concluded that this was implausible.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Some explosive findings from the unredacted report into child abuse from the royal commission this morning…

Archival tape -- reporter:

The child abuse royal commission has delivered damning proof George Pell turned a blind eye to pedophile priests...

ANNE:

They concluded that this idea that no one spoke better or no one knew about it and that the College of Consultors was incorrect.

Archival tape -- reporter:

It’s likely Cardinal George Pell knew of child abuse within the Catholic church as early as 1973, specifically that he knew about the child abuse that Gerald Risdale was committing at the time…

ANNE:

I can read you actually the passage where the commission found, and I'm quoting, Bishop Malkearns did not deceive his consultors. Cardinals Pell's evidence that, quote, pedophilia was not mentioned, unquote, and that the true reason was not given is not accepted. Bishop Mulkearns told the consultors that it was necessary to move Ridsdale because of complaints that he had sexually abused children. So the royal commission found that a contrary position is not tenable.

And the commission gives a really devastating indictment of the catastrophic failure on the part of senior clergy in the Ballarat diocese, including Pell, over decades, to respond effectively to sexual abuse of children by Ridsdale and certainly others.

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Anne, the royal commission found that George Pell knew of the offending of one Catholic priest, Gerald Ridsdale. Did it find that there were also other offenders that Pell was aware of?

ANNE:

Yes, they were - there were a number, actually. He knew of Father Fitzgerald, Brother Edward Dowlan, Father Wilfred Baker, Father Nazarino Fasari - are just some of the cases. And one of the cases they deal with at length is Father Peter Searson.

RUBY:

Can you tell me about Father Searson?

ANNE:

Yes. Father Peter Searson was a really dangerously disturbed individual. A very strange person. When he moved to Doveton Parish from Sunbury, he did all manner of horrible things with children. I’ll just list some of them. He got children to put their head between his knees while they were giving confession. He also lurked around the boy's toilet at the local Catholic school. He killed a cat in front of the children by grabbing by the tail and hurling it over a fence. He pointed a gun at children and he held a knife to a child's chest, saying, ‘this will go right through you’. And he dragged children to look at a dead body in a coffin. So this is a seriously disordered person who shouldn't be anywhere near children.

RUBY:

Hmm mm. And so George Pell knew about what Searson was doing?

ANNE:

Well, he was presented with a delegation of teachers about Searson, and he complained that the information they gave him was nonspecific.

And he also blamed not doing anything about Searson, until much later, on the Catholic Education Office, keeping the true story from him.

Archival tape -- royal commission:

Can you give us any reason why the Education Office would choose to deceive you in relation to Searson's behaviour?

Archival tape -- Pell:

Um, yes, I was a new boy on the block. I was known to be capable of being outspoken. They might have been fearful of just what line I would take.

ANNE:

And the royal commissioners... and there's quite a heated exchange with the chair of the commission, Peter McClellan, at this point.

Archival tape -- McClellan:

Well if you weren’t told, are you telling me they deceived you?

Archival tape -- Pell:

Um yes.

ANNE:

And they essentially said, you know, why on earth would they keep this evidence from me when they actually had gone to the archbishop and made complaints about it? So their conclusion was that it was implausible that it was not the case, that he was deceived about it and in fact, he knew.

Archival tape -- royal commission:

Cardinal, I have to suggest to you that your evidence in relation to not being briefed properly or adequately by the Catholic Education Office and the reasons for that are completely implausible.

Archival tape -- Pell:

Um, counsel, I can only tell you the truth.

ANNE:

And he did admit that he, quote, could have been more pushy. So he made that small concession.

RUBY:

And what has George Pell's response been to these findings now that they've been made public?

ANNE:

Well, he said that they were surprising...

Archival tape -- reporter:

The Cardinal has made it very clear that he believes the royal commission has got it wrong...

ANNE:

That he was surprised at the commission's findings and he said that they weren't based on evidence.

Archival tape -- reporter:

Cardinal Pell said he was surprised by some of the views of the royal commission about his actions, these views are not supported by evidence....

ANNE:

And I find that extraordinary because there are three volumes, really, which concern Pell and his behavior and all the things he could have done and should have done. There’s the volume about Ballarat, there's the volume about the Melbourne diocese. And there's the final report.

RUBY:

Anne, the Royal Commission went for four years and it exposed countless abuses within the church as well as in other organizations. Many pedophiles have been charged as a result of the evidence that it gathered. But what about the people who failed to report abuse?

ANNE:

Well, that's been, I think, one of the disappointing aspects of the outcome of the royal commission. Nothing much seems to have happened.

There seems to be a gap between what the commission achieved in other ways, which was to enormously raise awareness of child sexual abuse. There are lots of prosecutions which emerged out of the royal commission to do with crimes against children. But the actual crime of concealment hasn't really got anywhere.

There was one case brought against Archbishop Wilson in New South Wales by a particularly determined police officer. And it was for the historic crime of concealing child sexual abuse. But that was overturned on appeal. So as yet, even though the royal commission clearly found time and time and time again across many institutions, certainly not just the Catholic Church, the crime of concealing evidence, nothing much has happened. And there hasn't been any penalty for perjury.

And I'll have to sound very puzzled by it and disappointed in that, if people don't tell under oath, the truth, if people mislead by giving documentary evidence that's false, if people when they subpoenaed to give evidence in a truthful manner, don't do so, then there surely has to be repercussion.

RUBY:

Mm. Not talking about George Pell here - but more broadly - why do you think it is that the crime of perjury has been pursued in other royal commissions, but not in this royal commission?

ANNE:

I'm honestly not sure, but I'm concerned that there's something about the status of clerics where somehow they get away with things that ordinary citizens don't.

There's something about high status individuals, which, despite the fact that the royal commission did an extremely good job in not dissembling or kowtowing or submitting to bishops. Nonetheless, nothing long term has happened.

And the reason I make this point about, you know, why hasn't there been further action is that you really don't have the possibility of pedophiles doing the damage they do , unless, you have these essentially protection rackets.

So there's a real problem with not pursuing as far as possible where someone doesn't give evidence that is believable to a royal commission. There has to be consequences for that.

RUBY:

Anne, thank you so much for your time today.

ANNE:

Okay. Thanks.

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RUBY:

Also in the news —

Some coronavirus restrictions in Victoria are being reimposed, and plans to open pubs, restaurants and other venues to more people have been postponed.

From today, five visitors are now allowed inside homes, and outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people again.

Victoria’s state of emergency has also been extended for another four weeks.

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said the steps were necessary after the number of cases of coronavirus rose by 25 in a day.

The government said on Sunday that police would enforce fines in places that are considered “hot spots”.

In response, a number of states are now reconsidering plans to reopen internal borders.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is 7am, see you tomorrow.

As the final pages of the royal commission into child sexual abuse have been unredacted, it’s become clear what George Pell knew and when. But for all the commission's findings, no priest has ever been convicted for failing to report child abuse.

Guest: Writer for The Monthly Anne Manne.

Background reading:

The last word on George Pell in The Monthly
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is a daily show from The Monthly and The Saturday Paper. It’s produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, and Michelle Macklem. Elle Marsh is our features and field producer, in a position supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. New episodes of 7am are released every weekday morning. Make sure you don’t miss out by subscribing on your favourite podcast app. I’m Ruby Jones, see you next week.

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248: What George Pell knew...