Cardinal Pell 'knew of' clergy abuse, says Australian royal commission

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George PellImage source, AFP

Cardinal George Pell knew of child sexual abuse by priests in Australia as early as the 1970s but failed to take action, a landmark inquiry found.

The findings on Cardinal Pell - an ex-Vatican treasurer - come from Australia's royal commission into child sexual abuse, which ended in 2017.

Details were only revealed on Thursday. A court had previously redacted the report because the cleric was facing child abuse charges at the time.

The cardinal has denied the findings.

He said he was "surprised" by the inquiry's report, adding: "These views are not supported by evidence."

Cardinal Pell was convicted of child abuse in 2018, but last month was released from jail after Australia's top court overturned his conviction.

What did the inquiry find about Pell?

In over 100 pages concerning Pell's actions, the commissioners found the cardinal knew of paedophile priests both early in his career, and as he progressed.

In particular, the commissioners dismissed the cleric's long-stated defence that he didn't know about the actions of his former colleague Gerald Ridsdale. in the Victorian city of Ballarat.

Ridsdale is in jail for hundreds of child abuse offences - and is considered Australia's worst convicted paedophile priest.

"We are satisfied that in 1973 Father Pell turned his mind to the prudence of Ridsdale taking boys on overnight camps," the commissioners said in the report.

"We are also satisfied that by 1973, Cardinal Pell was not only conscious of child sexual abuse by clergy, but he also considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it," the commission said.

Image source, Alamy
Image caption,
Australian investigators (top right) questioning Cardinal George Pell via video link in 2016

Pell was involved in the decision to transfer Ridsdale, as well other suspected abusers, to different parishes, the inquiry said.

Since the 1990s, the cardinal has been criticised in Australia for his response to priest abuse within the Church.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse was set up in 2012, largely in response to allegations surrounding the Catholic Church.

In 2016, when Cardinal Pell testified at the royal commission from Rome, he apologised on behalf of the church and said it had "mucked things up".

However he did not accept any responsibility for failing to report Ridsdale and several other suspected abusers. He claimed he had been deceived by other senior clergymen.

But in relation to one such claim, the commissioners said: "We do not accept that Bishop Pell was deceived, intentionally or otherwise."

Australia's royal commission inquiry found that the greatest number of reported abusers were in Catholic institutions.

The inquiry heard that 7% of the nation's Catholic priests allegedly abused children between 1950 and 2010.

George Pell's career

  • 1966: Ordained as a priest
  • 1972: Begins working in parishes in Ballarat
  • 1987: Becomes auxiliary bishop of Melbourne
  • 1996: Named Archbishop of Melbourne
  • 2001: Becomes Archbishop of Sydney
  • 2003: Appointed a cardinal by Pope John Paul II
  • 2014: Pell becomes Vatican treasurer
  • 2017: Charged with multiple child sexual abuse offences dating to the 1970s and 1990s
  • 2018: Convicted of abuse
  • 2020: Conviction overturned