Revealed: Pell criticised by Royal Commission

The Royal Commission into Institutional response to Child sexual abuse  final reports were redacted in 2017, but have now been released in full.

The commission found Cardinal Pell should have urged his superiors to remove paedophile priest Peter Searson in 1989 after Pell had become a bishop-( see the description of the terrible Searson case further down our recounting of the Pell issues in Chronological order).

Allegations against  Cardinal George Pell fall into two broad groups – survivors’ stories that allege charges of misconduct with only one case making it to court, and being quashed by the High Court – and the second group being allegations of cover-up and failing to act in cases where other priests were involved. As reported so far the new RC material refers to cover-ups. (We’ll update this story.)

Two of these cover-up cases saw Pell grilled before the Royal Commission over several days.

The first concerns Pell’s time in the Diocese (region) of Ballarat from 1972, where was a priest for a couple of years and then ran a series of teacher training colleges. It is clear from the  Royal Commission transcripts that have always been available that abuse was widespread under bishop Ronald Mulkearns. The new material finds that that Pell was aware of child abuse by clergy by 1973, and considered ways to prevent “gossip” about it.

A notorious pedophile lived at the same house (presbytery) as Pell in St Alipius Ballarat. The Pedophile father Gerald Ridsdale abused children at the St Alipius primary school during the months the two men lived in the same building. Before the Royal Commission Pell denied knowledge of Ridsdale’s activities.

Here is how the Royal commission reported on the Riddle and Pell. “While at Ballarat East, Father Pell heard that Ridsdale had taken groups of boys away on camps, including overnight trips. Cardinal Pell accepted that, because of the Monsignor Day scandal, child sexual abuse was at least on his radar. In submissions, he also accepted it was clear that ‘momentary thought’ was given to the matter of Ridsdale taking boys away on camping trips. We are satisfied that in 1973 Father Pell 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. By this time, child sexual abuse was on his radar, in relation to not only Monsignor Day but also Ridsdale. We are also satisfied that by 1973 Cardinal Pell was not only conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy but that he also had considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it.” (Via Nine)

(Its worth noting that Paul Bongiono, priest turned SBS journalist , had the same experience of living in the same presenter (house) as Ridsdale – in a different Parish on the South Coast – Bongiorno says he did not know of Ridsdale’s attacks on children either.)

in 1977 Pell joins the “College of Consultors” a committee in the diocese that advised the Bishop. Pell was at a meeting that moved Ridsdale to his next parish. From the records there was a clear pattern of Ridsdale being moved from parish (local church) to parish rather more frequently than normal. Pell was questioned closely about whether he should have been suspicious.

It was established in the Royal Commission that Mulkearns was aware of complaints by staff, parents and students in several parishes. A couple of parishes later Ridsdale is removed from parish ministry. ““it had become necessary for Fr Gerald Ridsdale to move from the parish of Mortlake” the College of Consultors minutes record – which caused Pell to be closely questioned.

Another Ballarat story concerns allegations that Pell inappropriately touched children at the Eureka pool. This is the case that never made it to trial, being dropped by the Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions after Pell’s conviction on a case at St Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne  (later quashed by the High court.) A witness who dropped out of the trial featured in the ABC’s “revelation Series.”  Like the other allegations about him personally pell strongly denies these allegations.

When Pell gets promoted to Auxillary (in charge of a region) Bishop of Melbourne in 1987 the same pattern of more senior people keeping material about sexual abuse by priest from Pell – in his account – continues. Just as Mulkearns was secretive in Ballarat, Archbishop Little in Melbourne keeps Pell in the dark, Pell maintains to the Royal commission.

“One of the most unpleasant priests I have ever met”, is how  Pell describes Peter Searson who was parish priest at Doveton, in south east Melbourne during his time as the local Auxillary Bishop. It was an understatement. Searson equally assaulted children, end engaged in bizarre violent behaviour with animals, until he was finally convicted of assault against a 12-year-old boy. The Doveton story is also one of ill treatment of a whistleblower Graeme Sleeman the principal of the school at Doveton who was forced out when the church backed Searson.

Pell stated at the Royal Commission that the local Catholic Education office kept knowledge of Searson’s crimes from him.

The ABC reports that the commission found that Cardinal Pell, who was then an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne, should have advocated for Father Peter Searson to be removed. “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,” the commission said.

“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.”

This rejects Pell’s repeated statements to the commission that he did not have sufficient knowledge of Searson’s actions – and that the details had been kept from him.

In 1996 Pell becomes Archbishop of Melbourne, introduces “the Melbourne Response” an early attempt to handle complaints in a better manner than before, but which survivors heavily criticise. He becomes Archbishop of Sydney in 2001.


Some readers may bneed support upon reading this material, so here are soemplaces to seek support:

1800 RespectNational counselling helpline: 1800 737 732
BraveheartsCounselling and support for survivors of child sexual abuse: 1800 272 831


Statement by Pell:

7 May 2020

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.
He is especially surprised by the statements in the report about the earlier transfers of Gerald Ridsdale
discussed by the Ballarat Diocesan Consultors in 1977 and 82.
The Consultors who gave evidence on the meetings in 1977 and 1982 either said they did not learn of
Ridsdale’s offending against children until much later or they had no recollection of what was discussed.
None said they were made aware of Ridsdale’s offending at these meetings.