Australian Cardinal George Pell knew a notorious pedophile priest had been moved decades ago because he had sexually abused children, and should have removed an unstable priest in another parish who was also a suspected pedophile, a government inquiry concluded.
A report from the inquiry on child sexual abuse had been released in 2017, but findings concerning Pope Francis‘ former finance minister had been redacted until Thursday to avoid prejudicing juries in any future prosecutions.
The government decided to release the full report after the High Court last month overturned convictions against Pell on charges he molested two choirboys in a Melbourne cathedral in the late 1990s when he was an archbishop.
The 78-year-old cleric spent 13 months in prison before being cleared and released last month.
Pell, who now lives in a Sydney seminary, said in a statement he was “surprised by some of the views” of the inquiry about his actions. “These views are not supported by evidence,” Pell added.
The inquiry rejected Pell’s evidence given by video link from Rome in 2016 that he was deceived and lied to by Catholic Church officials about Australia’s worst pedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, and disturbed Melbourne parish priest Peter Searson.
Ridsdale, 85, pleaded guilty last week to sexually abusing four boys aged seven-to-16 in the 1970s, bringing the number of his known victims to 69. He has been behind bars since 1994 and will become eligible for parole on a 34-year sentence in April 2022.
“Cardinal Pell’s evidence that ‘pedophilia was not mentioned’ and that the ‘true’ reason was not given is not accepted,” the Australian government report said.
His lawyers have urged a judge not to increase Ridsdale’s non-parole period when he is sentenced on the latest convictions next week.
Searson died in 2009 without being charged over allegations that he had also molested children in several parishes over a decade.
Pell told the inquiry that he did not become aware of allegations that Ridsdale was a pedophile until 1993.
The inquiry rejected Pell’s evidence that Ballarat Bishop Ronald Mulkearns had not explained that Ridsdale had been removed from the Mortlake parish in 1982 because he had sexually abused children there. Pell was one the bishop’s priest advisers at the time, known as consultors, who regularly met to discuss diocese matters.
“Cardinal Pell’s evidence that ‘pedophilia was not mentioned’ and that the ‘true’ reason was not given is not accepted,” the report said.
“It is implausible … that Bishop Mulkearns did not inform those at the meeting of at least complaints of sexual abuse of children having been made,” it added.
Pell said in his statement that none of his fellow consultors told the inquiry that they had been aware of Ridsdale’s offending in 1982.
The inquiry also found that Pell had “turned his mind to the prudence” of Ridsdale taking boys camping in 1973, because “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 inquiry found Pell should have advised Melbourne Archbishop Frank Little to remove Searson.
“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,” the report said.
Pell responded in his statement that the school delegation “did not mention sexual assaults and did not ask for Season’s removal.”
Pell said that after he replaced Little as Melbourne archbishop in 1996, he placed Searson on leave and later removed him from the parish where the complaints arose.
Clare Leaney, chief executive of Good Faith Foundation, a charity focused helping abuse victims recover, said Pell knew about offending in the church since 1973 and failed to act.
“Today’s released findings confirm what survivors and advocates already knew to be true — there has been a systematic failure of leadership within the Catholic Church for decades,” Leaney said.