A Closer Look at Those Pell Redactions


It was easy, at least intellectually, to defend Cardinal George Pell in the face of the ludicrous criminal child-abuse charges he faced and which have now been so decisively dismissed by the High Court. However, when the un-redacted final three reports, formerly suppressed, of the Royal Commission into the Response of Cardinal George Pell to Abuse Within the Catholic Church were made public (read them here, here and here) things became more problematical for the Cardinal’s supporters.  Several critical “findings” were made against him, albeit conclusions based on the commissioners’ collective surmise about what, in their opinion, the Cardinal should have known. This gave his persecutors a much-needed morale boost after the utter humiliation of the 7-0 decision before the nation’s highest court.

See what I did in  the paragraph above?  How many of you said ‘Hey, wait a minute, the Royal Commission was not into just the Catholic Church, but all churches plus a number of other institutions’?  In this forum most, probably all, would have spotted my misrepresentation.  But had this piece had been published in The Age, The Guardian or even lately The Australian, how many would have even noticed? As far as the general public is concerned, fed scraps by a lynch-mob media, there is no ‘abuse’ game in town other than Pell and the Catholic Church.

Even with VicPol, two Supreme Court judges and the likes of David Marr whipping up the lynch mob, they still couldn’t nail down the lid on the coffin of George Pell’s reputation. Now that he is dead, the false charges and misrepresentations are getting a fresh airing — and, as Peter O’Brien notes, they were lies then and lies now

David Marr, writing in The Guardian , went harrumphing to his keyboard to make the most of the formerly excised sections:

With its last findings made public, it’s clear that no senior figure in any church who gave evidence to the commission has emerged as damaged as Pell.

Tolling through those hitherto secret pages is the underlying verdict of the commission: that Pell might have, but did not, take action to protect the children of the Catholic community he served as a priest in Ballarat and bishop in Melbourne.

Marr has long been a critic of Pell and was one of the baying mob‘s cheerleaders as the target of their hatred endured the humiliation of imprisonment and the addition of his name to the sex offenders’ register. The ABC regular no doubt enjoyed that schadenfreude moment. But his premise, like much else of his anti-Pell/anti-Catholic commentaries, was false.

Notwithstanding the above, and on the basis that nothing I say will convince the Pell haters to cast aside, or even question, the findings of the Royal Commission, I propose to present my case on the assumption that the Royal Commission was correct in its findings about Cardinal Pell – although I will, from time to time, take issue with certain of its assumptions.  For the most part, for the purposes of this essay,  I will not contest the findings of the Royal Commission.  Others, Gerard Henderson for one, are doing this better than I.


Cardinal Pell’s Career

To set the scene let me outline Cardinal Pell’s career, which effectively covers three phases. Following his ordination in Rome in 1966 he studied in Italy and the UK, returning to Australia in 1971.

The diocese of Ballarat – during the period 1971 to 1984 he did pastoral work as parish priest or administrator at Swan Hill, East Ballarat and Bungaree.  During this time he also carried out some other duties such as Episcopal Vicar for Education (1973–84), director of the Aquinas campus of the Institute of Catholic Education (1974–84) and principal of the Institute of Catholic Education (1981–84).  From 1895 to 1987 he served as seminary rector of his alma mater, Corpus Christi College.  During his period in the Ballarat Diocese, Bishop Ronald Mulkeans presided over the Diocese.  In 1977, he became one of a group of advisors, known as the College of Consultors,  to Bishop Mulkearns.

Archdiocese of Melbourne — in March 1987 Pell was consecrated as an Auxiliary Bishop under Archbishop Frank Little.  He served as Bishop for the Southern Region of Melbourne (1987–96). During this time, he was a parish priest in Mentone.

He was named seventh Archbishop of Melbourne on 16 July 1996 and was later appointed eighth Archbishop of Sydney on 26 March 2001.

In July 1996 he instigated the Melbourne Response, the first formalized process in the world for providing compensation for victims of clerical sexual abuse.

Archdiocese of Sydney — In 2001, he became Archbishop of Sydney.  In 2003 he was elevated to Cardinal and in 2014 he was appointed first prefect of the newly created Secretariat for the Economy.


The Royal Commission Report 

The Royal Comission Report comprises many volumes and is thousands of pages long.  The part of the Report which I will be examining covers two case studies that examine offences in the Diocese of Ballarat and the Archdiocese of Melbourne.

Ballarat: The Royal Commission, in Case Study 28, considered the crimes of four priests (Monsignor John Day, Fr Gerald Ridsdale, Fr Paul David Ryan and Fr Robert Claffey) and five Christian Brothers (Br Leo Fitzgerald, Brother BWX, Br Stephen Farrell, Br Edward Dowlan and Br Peter Toomey).

Cardinal Pell’s involvement in the mismanagement of the Christian Brother offenders was peripheral and primarily concerned with Dowlan.

Dowlan: With regard to the cases of the five Christian Brothers, Father Pell was involved with only one of them – Brother Dowlan. As a Christian Brother, Dowlan was the responsibility of the Congregation of the Christian Brothers, specifically the St Patrick’s Province of that Congregation covering Victoria and Tasmania.  He did not come under the jurisdiction of the Bishop of the Diocese of Ballarat.

The first reports against Dowlan emerged in the early 1970s when he was a teacher at St Partrick’s College in Ballarat.  The Royal Commission summarized this period (1973- 1975) thus:

We have found that Brother Nangle received complaints about Dowlan sexually abusing boys from Mr Barlow, a member of the SRC at St Patrick’s College; Mr Holloway, a lay teacher at St Patrick’s College; and Mr Claassen, a student of St Patrick’s College, and his mother. This evidence makes it implausible that Brother Nangle, as he told us, did not hear any rumours or allegations of child sexual abuse in relation to Dowlan until the mid-1990s. We are satisfied that there was no effective response to any of those reports or complaints in order to manage the risk to children posed by Dowlan. Brother Nangle consistently and unreasonably declined to obtain the details of such reports and complaint

To cut a long story short, from that time until 1993, as many more complaints emerged, Dowlan was transferred to at least five other schools, under the direction of various Provincials, Brs Nagle, Chappell and Noonan. He was finally charged in 1996.

Here is how The Age reported the Commission’s finding on this matter:

Pell dismissed Dowlan complaint

The royal commission accepted the evidence of Timothy Green that in 1974 he tried to bring concerns about paedophile Brother Edward “Ted” Dowlan to Cardinal Pell and was met with resistance. The commission found Cardinal Pell said words to the effect of, “Don’t be ridiculous,” and walked away.

What is not disclosed here is that Pell said he did not recall this incident and did not accept that it had occurred.  The report also notes that the surviving witness of two gave evidence that he did not recall the incident.   Here is the statement by Mr Green:

Father Pell came in to the change room and said something like ‘G’day boys’ and went and stood behind us and started getting changed. Then I just said something like, ‘We’ve got to do something about what’s going on at St Pat’s’. Father Pell said, ‘Yes, what do you mean?’ I said, ‘Brother Dowlan is touching little boys’. Father Pell said, ‘Don’t be ridiculous’ and walked out.

Even allowing that he could not be expected to remember his exact words, the phrasing  of this conversation strikes me as extremely implausible, coming from a 12-year-old boy.  Would a 12 year old boy see himself as part of the response to Dowlan’s offending? Would he refer to Dowlan ‘touching little boys’, when he himself was a little boy?  Would he not say ‘touching us’? Nonetheless, based on what I would consider very arcane reasoning, the Commission simply rejected Cardinal Pell’s version and accepted that of Mr Green.  From the report:

When asked if he accepted that Mr Green spoke to him in about 1974 about Dowlan, Cardinal Pell said:

Pell: No, I don’t. I have no such recollection of such a dialogue.

Question: But it may have happened? …

Pell: I have no recollection that it happened. I’m certainly not suggesting that Mr Green is telling lies, but I am suggesting that I have no such recollection.

Subsequently, Pell’s counsel challenged elements of Mr Green’s account and it seems the Commission took this as a tacit admission that the conversation did, in fact take place. And this is at odds with an earlier incident wherein Pell did, in fact, report what he had heard about Dowlan.  From the Final Report:

Father Pell’s knowledge about Dowlan in the early 1970s

In the early 1970s, Cardinal Pell was told by one or two students, and one or two priests, about Dowlan’s infractions of a sexual nature with minors. We accept that Cardinal Pell concluded at the time that Dowlan must, at the very least, have been unwise and imprudent.

Cardinal Pell told the chaplain at St Patrick’s College, Father Brendan Davey, about the rumours he had heard about Dowlan. We accept that Father Davey told him there were problems and that the Christian Brothers were looking into it. It is not known what Father Davey did with the information that Cardinal Pell provided to him.

Cardinal Pell did not tell Brother Nangle or Bishop Mulkearns about what he had heard.

It was a reasonable assumption on Father Pell’s part that, having advised the chaplain of rumours he had heard and been assured they were being looked into by the Brothers, that he had discharged his duty on this matter.  And if Father Pell had been prepared to take seriously accusations against Dowlan in the early 70s, why would he so casually dismiss Mr Green’s claim in 1974?

Given that Dowlan was not in the same ‘chain of command’ as Father Pell, and that Dowlan was so badly mismanaged over the following 20 years, Father Pell’s contribution to this particular scandal appears miniscule.


Where Father Pell was involved more closely with child abuse offences was within the priesthood and the most notorious of these was Father Gerald Ridsdale. From the Report:

Following his ordination in 1961, Ridsdale held 16 different appointments over a period of 29 years as a priest. His appointments were typically short. He spent an average of about 1.8 years per appointment, after which he was transferred to a new role or location. Ridsdale’s appointments were discussed at no less than 18 meetings of the College of Consultors. The frequency with which Ridsdale was moved from appointment to appointment was unusual. Cardinal Pell told us the practice with assistant priests in those days was to give them a variety of experiences over a three-year period. However, he acknowledged that the frequency of Ridsdale’s transfers was somewhat unusual, and he presumed the pattern of movements would give rise to discussion. 

In March 1976, following complaints at his previous parish, Ridsdale was given a temporary appointment as a parish priest at Edenhope.  Father Pell became a member of the College of Consultors in 1977.  He attended his first meeting in July 1977 and one of the agenda items was to confirm Ridsdale’s appointment at Edenhope.  Presumably this was done because no complaints against Ridsdale had emerged in the previous 18 months, so there could be no suggestion that, on this occasion, Father Pell conspired with Bishop Mulkearns and the five other consultors at that meeting to transfer a paedophile priest in order to cover up his crimes.

Of course, Ridsdale did offend again and eventually complaints emerged.  In September 1979, he resigned as parish priest of Edenhope and was granted a year of study leave at the National Pastoral Institute in Elsternwick, Victoria.  This leave was approved by the College of Consultors, presided over by Bishop Mulkearns and attended by six consultors, including Father Pell.  So while this move was occasioned by Ridsdale’s offending, it might be said that removal from a parish and to a course of study was a more benign outcome than just shunting him off to another parish.

On January 16, 1981, the College of Consultors met again, following which Bishop Mulkearns appointed Ridsdale to the Parish of Mortlake.  Father Pell was not at this meeting.  From the Report:

During his time at Mortlake parish, Ridsdale sexually abused a large number of children, including Mr David Ridsdale, BPS, BPT, BPW, BPU, BPX, BPR and Mr Paul Levey.

Many years later, Ridsdale himself described his behaviour at Mortlake as ‘out of control’. He said he ‘went haywire there. Altar boys mainly. They came over to the presbytery’. Ridsdale told CCI interviewers in 1993 that ‘it was no secret around Mortlake eventually about me and my behaviour; there was talk all around the place. Amongst the children and one lot of parents came to me’.

In his evidence to us, Ridsdale said he did not remember this and he did not know why he said it. He said he did not know how he came to hear about the talk around Mortlake about his offending.1399 There was also evidence that Bishop Mulkearns and other senior priests in the Diocese received numerous reports of Ridsdale sexually offending against children.

The Church parties acknowledged that in 1981 and 1982 Bishop Mulkearns either received or learned of numerous reports or complaints about Ridsdale at Mortlake. They also acknowledged that, at least by August 1982, reports or allegations about Ridsdale in Mortlake had been made to Monsignor Fiscalini, Sister McGrath, Father Finnigan and Father Nolan. 

Things eventually got so bad that Ridsdale himself asked Bishop Mulkearns to remove him from the parish.  The College of Consultors (Mulkearns presiding  and six members, including Father Pell) met on September  14, 1982, and were advised that negotiations were underway to transfer Ridsdale to the Catholic Enquiry Centre in Sydney.  Again, in the admittedly distorted logic of Bishop Mulkearns and his acolytes, this could be seen as a relatively benign move, as Ridsdale would not have had ready access to children.  At least that was the theory.

This move was formalised at a Consultors meeting on September 30 at which Father Pell was not present.

Ridsdale remained in NSW, offending all the while, until 1986, when he was appointed to the Parish of Horsham.  Father Pell did not attend the Consultors meeting at which this was decided. In April 1988 Ridsdale resigned from Horsham, again as a result of his activities.  He would be charged, eventually, in 1993.

By this time Father Pell was now Bishop Pell and had nothing further to do with the case of Gerald Ridsdale.  So his part in facilitating Ridsdale’s career of crime was, as one of at least seven other priests, to:

1/ Confirm Ridsdale’s appointment at Edenhope — an appointment made before he became a consultor

2/ Approve a year of study leave at the NPI, removing Ridsdale from close proximity to children

3/ Approve his transfer to the Catholic Enquiry Centre in Sydney — a position once more that did not involve contact with children.

Of course, the Royal Commission rightly condemns these moves as totally wrong.  The Church should have dispensed with Ridsdale’s services long before Father Pell became a consultor.  During Ridsdale’s ‘career’, in relation to his transfers, Bishop Mulkearns was advised by no fewer than 23 consultors, some of whom were Monsignors and one of whom (other than Pell) eventually became a Bishop.

The decisions about Ridsdale were made by Bishop Mulkearns, and his strategy was to protect the reputation of the Church at all costs.  He regarded these abuses as moral failings, offences against God, that could be forgiven by God.  If he gave any thought to the effect they might have on the victims, it was not sufficient to interfere with his paramount aim of protecting the Church.  It seems this mindset was prevalent throughout the Church.  It must have become clear to all his consultors that nothing would persuade him from this course, and presumably, they just went along with it.  There were many of them, Monsignor Fiscalini (long-term member of the College of Consultors) for example, who knew much more than Pell did.  None of them claimed to have offered even a token resistance or objection to Mulkern’s strategy.



We now come to the Diocese of Melbourne, where Pell served initially as Auxiliary Bishop, and the case of Father Peter Searson.  Archbishop Little was the senior player here and he seems to have had exactly the same modus operandi as Bishop Mulkearns. Here is Searson’s potted history from the Report: 

Father Peter Searson was born in 1923 and was ordained as a priest in 1962.

Prior to his ordination, he spent almost 20 years as a member of the Marist Brothers – a Catholic religious order. Father Searson held the following relevant appointments in the Archdiocese:

# chaplain to the Villa Maria Society for the Blind (January 1974 – June 1977)

# parish priest, Sunbury, Victoria (June 1977 – January 1984)

# parish priest, Holy Family Parish, Doveton, Victoria (January 1984 – March 1997).

Father Searson was the subject of many complaints over the years, mostly in relation to his conduct at Doveton and Sunbury. In addition to some complaints of child sexual abuse, other complaints were made about his unpleasant, strange, aggressive and violent conduct.

Archbishop Pell placed Father Searson on administrative leave in March 1997.

Following the release of the unredacted report The Age reported:

Pell failed to report Father Searson

The commission found Cardinal Pell should have advised senior Catholic authorities to remove paedophile priest Father Peter Searson – an “unstable and disturbed individual” – in 1989.

“We found that he should have advised the archbishop to remove Father Searson and he did not do so,” the commission said.

A private complaint about Searson had been made to Archbishop Little, and ignored, as early as 1974 but it was not until 1982 that the complaints started to multiply and they covered, a varierty of bizarre behaviour, not just sexual abuse.  His performance was monitored and discussed by the Personnel Advisory Board (PAB), comprising roughly ten clerics including two bishops.

In December 1983, Searson requested to be transferred out of Sunbury and was relocated to Doveton. More offences occurred at his new posting and these were the subject of discussion at a number of meetings of the PAB.  The Report notes:

Some time after the PAB meeting, Archbishop Little had a discussion with Father Searson. Following that discussion, on 17 November 1986, Archbishop Little wrote to Father Searson and said:

Although in our conversation you generally dismissed that long litany of allegations carefully garnered to convey an adequate spectrum of opinion, there still remains in the minds of many people perceptions which continue to contribute, I suspect, to the loss of your good name among upright and serious-minded parishioners and, supposedly in a good number, even of aversion to you; circumstances to this stage would lead me to believe that these factors will be unlikely to come to an end.

You will appreciate that such a situation offers valid grounds for a Parish Priest to consider offering his resignation.

Regretfully I must in conscience present that aspect for your consideration.

Father Searson did not offer to resign; Archbishop Little did not make him. The matters known to Archbishop Little by the end of 1986 were undoubtedly sufficient to demonstrate that Father Searson ought to be removed from a parish appointment and posed a grave risk to the safety of children. By not removing Father Searson, Archbishop Little abjectly failed to protect the safety and wellbeing of the children within the parish. 

Up to this point, Bishop Pell had nothing to do with the case of Searson.  From the Report:

On 20 November 1989 Bishop Pell met with a delegation of staff from Holy Family School, together with Mr Lalor, the CEO chairperson for the primary staff group, and a representative of the staff union, Mr Palmer. The meeting was convened to discuss the concerns of staff about  Father Searson. 

The list of grievances included a number of matters regarding the poor state of upkeep of the school, as well as the following:

# Harassment of Staff and Parents

# Harassment of individuals around the school premises.

# Accusing individual staff of disloyalty without cause.

# Confronting of staff on trivial matters before children.

# Small group of children shown dead body in coffin.

# Cruelty to an animal in front of young children.

# Compulsion on children to attend reconciliation on demand.

# Unnecessary use of children’s toilets.

# Harassment of children.

According to a CEO memorandum, the staff’s letter was also discussed with the Vicar General (Monsignor Deakin) and an initial meeting was arranged with officers of the CEO and Father Searson to put the concerns to him.

The initial meeting occurred in August 1989, when Mr Lalor and another person from the CEO met with Father Searson. They had previously met with the school principal, who confirmed that the contents of the letter were correct. They inspected the school building, which they reported to be in an ‘appalling’ state.

During this meeting, Father Searson denied the substance of the allegations. He denied harassing staff. He said it was necessary for him to supervise the boys’ toilets to overcome a graffiti problem. He agreed to work through the issue with the principal to avoid further problems with staff.

Precisely why Bishop Pell, and not Monsignor Deakin, came to receive the November 1989 delegation is unclear. As set out earlier, the Vicar General was ordinarily the channel through which complaints received by the CEO were directed. However, complaints were made to the Auxiliary Bishops from time to time. One such instance occurred not long before the delegation, when Bishop Pell received a complaint from an adult female parishioner.

That was in relation to an incident where she alleged she had been verbally abused and then pushed by Father Searson at Holy Family School, following an argument about nonpayment of her children’s school fees. Bishop Pell had also been in Doveton earlier in November to perform the sacrament of confirmation, which was one of the Auxiliary Bishops’ responsibilities. 

The Report devotes a remarkable 14 pages discussing this incident, much of which deals with what Bishop Pell was or was not  told in a verbal briefing prior to the seeing the delegation.   From the amount of time spent on this issue it seems that the Commission regarded this delegation and Bishop Pell’s handling of it, as pivotal in the case management of Father Searson.  Nothing could be further from the truth. All that Cardinal Pell learnt from the delegation was already well known to the Archbishop and the Vicar General. Cardinal Pell testified that he had reported the result of the meeting to Archbishop Little, including the fact that one of the delegation had said that they would be prepared to give Searson a second chance. Little instructed Pell to speak to Searson, which he did.  Nonetheless, the Commission found:

Bishop Pell was the Auxiliary Bishop to the Archbishop. He had the capacity and opportunity to urge the Archbishop to take action against Father Searson in order to protect the children of the parish and the Catholic community of his region. Cardinal Pell’s evidence was that he could not recall recommending a particular course of action to the Archbishop. He conceded that, in retrospect, he might have been ‘a bit more pushy’ with all the parties involved. We do not accept any qualification that this conclusion is only appreciable in retrospect. 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 same could be said, with more justification, of the Vicar General, Monsignor Deakin.  And it is clear from the passage regarding Bishop Little’s letter to Searson that when, push came to shove, even though he already knew that Searson was unfit for the ministry, he would not take that final step.  Pell may or may not have been aware of this but it serves to show that, whether or not Pell had recommended Searson’s removal, it would have made a not jot of difference.  And, as noted above, shortly after he became Archbishop of Melbourne and was in a position to do so, he removed Searson from his ministry and ignored a Vatican directive that he be re-instated.

Again, Pell’s involvement in this matter was a sideshow – one meeting in a history of complaints and issues that spanned 30 years.



Cardinal Pell was made a scapegoat.  Whether that was the intention of the Royal Commission, I cannot say.  But that has certainly been the outcome of the almost obsessive examination of the actions and recollections of a man whose direct involvement in the management of these offenders was minimal at best.  The blame falls squarely and overwhelmingly at the feet of Bishop Mulkearns,  Archbishop Little and various Provincials of the Christian Brothers. Contrary to natural justice, and contrasted with the treatment meted out to Cardinal Pell by the pack-hunting media, these men are not today the objects of infamy and rebuke  that they should be.

There has been a suggestion that Victoria Police are re-examining the Report to ascertain if new criminal charges can be brought against Cardinal Pell.  This they have refused to confirm or deny.  There are no grounds for charging Pell with any crime unless they also to choose to charge a multitude of other surviving clerics. But given the disgraceful state of Premier Daniel Andrew’s police force, I suspect they will draw this out as long as they possibly can.

At a pinch you might argue that Cardinal Pell showed a lack of moral courage in failing to vigorously protest the decisions of Bishops Mulkearns and Little (forgive me for playing Devil’s Advocatee here) but you cannot claim that his actions contributed materially to the furtherance of the crimes of Dowlan, Ridsdale or Searson.  And, of course, Pell had nothing whatsoever to do with offences other than in Victoria.

As the oft-purported evil genius of child sexual abuse in the Australian Catholic Church, Cardinal Pell is pretty poor casting.

43 thoughts on “A Closer Look at Those Pell Redactions

  • James Franklin says:

    That’s all correct. But it isn’t quite the end of the story to lay the blame on Little, Mulkearns and the provincials. They were all behaving the same way, obviously because they were obeying orders – orders which haven’t come to light, and which the Royal Commission showed no interest in looking for.

  • Peter Smith says:

    In general, I am not sure about Royal Commissions or any commissions of inquiry. It is one thing to assess whether something has gone systematically amiss at an organisational or institutional level and to recommend changes, it is another to voice opinions on the demeanour and truthfulness of witnesses. If someone says that they didn’t know something bad was going on, then it is no more than opinion to say that they must have known, without adducing overwhelming evidence to that effect. The Banking Royal Commissioner, for example, apparently didn’t take to the demeanour of Ken Henry. So what? It is questionable, also, in my view, that people can be maligned at will at commissions of inquiry based on the recollections of witnesses – often dated and without corroboration.

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    This subject has been discussed elsewhere.
    Below are some thoughts.
    What is clear, though, is that whenever George Pell has denied an accusation,in the highest court,he has been found to be honest.

    Its hard to penetrate the opacity of command and control that ruled in the late 60’s and 70’s. The need for control was very much in the institutions I had vanishing relationships with.
    As a diminutive student representative member of the University of Sydney Buildings and Grounds Committee, never once was any subject, discussed at the Committee level, discussed with myself.
    The night before the ‘vote’ for the new Seymour Centre, I received the plans. The decisions were all made elsewhere. Occasionally there were a few spats at the professorial level, but by and large the Administration kept the cards to their chest.
    That was in the dark days when a student could be brought before a Proctorial Board and sent down, in camera, without representation.
    A secular Star Chamber.
    At the local Chaplaincy I was privileged to have a revealing conversation with the curate and told that his position was powerless. No decision was discussed with him,he was always in the dark. He felt obligated that someone know this, as he was in the process of dying, another well kept secret.
    The context was that I had opened up to him about what was actually going on at that time in student politics.
    So a quid pro quo.
    What struck me about this RC was the lack of depth in the life experience of the accusers, questioners, judges and counsel assisting, of the old past. That’s the time when they were still a twinkle in dad’s eye.
    The shake up after Vatican 2 was still causing rumbling.
    At Sydney Uni there was actually a debate about the contraceptive pill.
    The radical left, the SDS,much to its great honor, actually split down the middle about abortion.
    So when George Pell says he did not know about Ridsdale at a particular meeting it rings true to my own life experience.
    What I look back to at the time of the RC is what was widely reported about Ridsdale at the time.
    That was Paul Bongiorno’s statement. He didn’t know.
    Nothing seems to shake the certainty of Pell’s accusers, books, magazine articles,7.30 reports, the lot.
    No regrets on ‘The Kid’. Remember, this kid managed to change white wine into red wine,pass easily through a locked door and create an avatar or at least bend time or teleport, an Archbishop, from the front steps of a Cathedral.
    Now if you believe that consistently,you are capable of believing anything.
    So much for the trust in modern journalism.
    Yet the paradox with Pell is that his time in prison has allowed him to reflect, write his accounts and hopefully, memoirs and, when subject to ‘the blow torch on the belly’, as the late Neville Wran would have it,he has emerged a balanced person.
    Talk about integrating the shadow personality.
    I wonder what God has in store for him next.
    Don’t worry, the ABC will report it first

  • Salome says:

    And if he’d recommended in as many words that Searson should be removed, what would Little have done? And if (and it’s a big if) he’d known what Ridsdale was up to and gone to the police, what would the police had done? If he’d followed up about Dowlan, what would the Brothers have done? Regarding Dowlan, he made an admission against interest that in retrospect he should have done more–but not to have done so is a long way short of a ‘cover-up’. Further, an admission against interest is generally a sign of an honest witness, so if he denies other things, perhaps the denials should be accepted in the absence of actual evidence to the contrary.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    I think the behaviour of the modern media in all of this is the issue that stands out in sharpest relief in all of this, particularly that of the ABC which led the witch-hunt against Pell. As someone who was raised a Catholic, and educated in a Catholic boarding school I was very aware of the hierarchical nature of the Church, and of the strict discipline to which its priests and lesser clergy were subject. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that Pell, as a junior priest would, like Bongiorno, be unaware of Ridsdale’s offences despite living in the same house. In the Church hierarchy, a junior priest would need to be both very brave and certain of the accuracy of his accusations if he were to inform his superiors about alleged offences by other clergy who undoubtedly would deny everything if the subject were to be broached.
    While journalists in the free-enterprise media might have some inkling of a chain of command and obedience to higher authority, a concept familiar to most non-government workers, the behaviour of the ABC journalists and commentators like David Marr, Peter ThickSimons et al, suggests to me that they have no experience or even knowledge of such a regime. I doubt if any of them have ever held what most people would perceive as a real job, where bosses give orders and expect them to be obeyed, or else there will be consequences. If so, they could not conceive of a situation where Pell, as a junior priest, might simply be overawed by the authority of his bishops and/or simply reluctant to convey what was really little more than second-hand gossip of which he had no first-hand knowledge. It might well be beyond the ken of journalists, whose stock-in-trade is often little more than the gathering and dissemination of such second-hand gossip, that there are people who (without first-hand knowledge) might be reluctant to tell inherently dubious tales on the unsupported word of people reporting alleged incidents.
    The corrupt and incompetent behaviour of VICPOL at all stages of the affair is also beyond disgraceful. While Pell’s bishops were moving to protect the Church’s reputation, there have been reports of police officers being disciplined by senior commanders for daring to investigate alleged offenders. While it’s far from certain that Pell had sufficient knowledge or power to act, there’s no doubt that the police were aware.
    It seems, however, that VICPOL have the confidence of their Premier, despite all the recent scandals, so nothing is likely to be done to fix the real problem. Cardinal Pell is much easier prey.
    Shame on them all.

  • Peter Marriott says:

    I think a good very well reasoned article and I agree with it. Also, in my view, Peter Smith is correct about Royal Commissions and Lewis P Buckingham has given a very good thought résumé particularly, I think, when it comes to the lack of depth in life experience.

  • IainC says:

    Throughout, relevant authorities and many media outlets have prosecuted the man and not the evidence. Perhaps add Pell Derangement Syndrome to the list of others. Seldom has the presumption of guilt, and the requirement of Cardinal Pell to prove his innocence, in contradiction to legal protocol, been so blatantly flaunted. He will know how those arrested in China, with a 99.9% conviction rate, feel.
    One question that puzzles me, and gets relatively little discussion, is why, if Cardinal Pell were guilty of sins of commission, not just omission, would he dare to set up the Melbourne Response? His earlier crimes, with his implicit invitation to past victims to come forward, would surely be exposed. Why would he do this if he were guilty in the way he is portrayed? It makes no sense. If the commission angle is therefore a nonsense, the worst that could be attached to him is, when a junior priest, having a very peripheral knowledge of a few priests not of his acquaintance who had a dubious reputation from secondhand information, and co-habiting with another priest who was (much) later convicted. That kind of situation, mutatis mutandis, would probably fit most people in society.
    The overwhelming sense of all this is that nobody took sexual exploitation of minors seriously, regarding it more as a personal failing and less of a crime. Certainly, when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, priests and altar boys or choirboys were a source of jokes, not fear. The church knew, the boys knew, some parents knew, the police knew, and nobody took it too seriously. The puritanical moral vindictiveness of modern scolds, as well as later evidence that such abuse is deeply traumatizing and damaging, makes admitting such past laissez faire attitudes not just embarrassing, but dangerous.
    I still wonder whether the church, steeped in history and obviously familiar with ancient Greek and Roman predilections for young boys, saw similar behaviour as a moral failure and a sin, rather than a crime.

    • DougD says:

      Unlike individual Catholic clergy, the Commission did not criticise any individual members of Victoria police. The Commission excoriated Bishop Mulkearns for how he moved Ridsdale around parishes: one example- “It is appalling that Bishop Mulkearns, knowing of Ridsdale’s history of offending, did not report to the police or adequately inform Father Madden [Horsham parish priest] of the risks posed by Ridsdale [when Mulkearns transferred Ridsdale there in 1986]…. Bishop Mulkearns was recklessly indifferent to the safety and wellbeing of the children in and around Horsham. …” The Commission also inferred that Pell, despite his denials, must have known of Ridsdale’s abuse and criticised him for his lack of action. But the Commission did not have to infer that Victoria Police’s Child Exploitation Squad knew back in 1976 that Risdale was a child abuser. It then told Detective Mooney to tell Bishop Mulkearns about Ridsdale’s criminal activities. Yet like Mulkearns, Victoria Police took no action to stop Risdale’s crimes that continued through to 1992 when they finally arrested him. Unlike Mulkearns, however, the Commission did not criticise the police for being from 1976 just as ” recklessly indifferent to the safety and wellbeing of the children” as it said Mulkearns had been.
      Bishop Mulkearns in his apology at the Commission hearing said “I had no idea of the effects of the incidents that took place”. Cardinal Pell told the Commission much the. But to my surprise the Commission did not comment at all on the their weak-sounding explanations of a lack of understanding at the time of the impacts of child sexual abuse. The only explanation I can see for the Commission’s restraint is that it could not condemn the lack of understand of Mulkearns and Pell without also condemning Victoria Police for the same failing. The senior Victoria Police witness in the Commission Assistant Commissioner Fontana said much that it was the same lack of insight that explained the poor responses of Victorian police for so long. The Commission concluded saying: “We accept that before 2004 members of the Victoria Police were not adequately trained to recognise, understand or respond to child sexual abuse. We are satisfied that many responses to reports of child sexual abuse were entirely unsatisfactory”.
      The Commission seems to have been determined, for some unidentifiable reason, to protect individual Victoria Police from criticism.

  • Rob Brighton says:

    Was Pell targeted because he was both a man of the right and the last one still alive?
    Seems pretty certain but as I am atheist I have no understanding of the catholic church’s operation other than my interface with their education services.
    Why would anyone expect the ABC to change their minds based on facts? You might wish them too, you might even have justification for insisting but they are of the left and the left do not care what you think of them, you are standing between them and their nirvana and as such you must be crushed, disposed of or brought into the party line.

  • jt says:

    Imagine you are brought up in a loving, supportive family that is full of good people. People who don’t abuse you or neglect you but who support and encourage you throughout childhood, into adolescence and then in the discovery of your vocation. Now imagine during your adult years you are exposed to a harsh reality, that hits you in the face like a brick, that there are people, who you know and work with, that have done evil things that you could never conceive of, things you don’t understand and because of the nature of the actions you don’t want to know (or are not interested in knowing about) not because you don’t care about the victims but because you don’t want the details of such evil deeds in your head……
    It can be hard, even inconceivable, for those not brought up the same way to believe that someone can be unaware, especially when it is happening so close to home, that these things have occurred.
    It can be hard to believe that there are genuinely good, decent, moral people in the world.

    Now if George Pell was one of these progressive Catholics who agree with abortion and euthanasia (to name a couple) then I suggest he would never have been imprisoned (and so unjustly too). He would have been embraced as a visionary who was moving with the times, reflecting the modern progression of the masses.
    But alas he is not. He is a man of God with conservative beliefs. It is because of these beliefs that he was condemned.
    Those who condemned him will never understand what it means to truely believe in something. They sold their souls long ago in their pursuit to believe in anything and everything.

  • Peter Marriott says:

    jt – Excellent comment that I easily identify with and agree with.

  • lloveday says:

    ” Others, Gerard Henderson for one, are doing this better than I.”
    Henderson has further good comments today at thesydneyinstitute.com.au/blog/issue-497/ under heading:

  • Peter OBrien says:

    Here is an extract from an Adelaide Advertiser story:

    Following the High Court decision, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse released a previously redacted portion of its report which found the Cardinal had been made aware of paedophile priests and covered it up. Cardinal Pell issued a statement claiming the Commission’s finding was “not supported by the evidence’’.

    This is totally false and typical of the MSM coverage of Pell. The Commission DID NOT find that
    the ‘Cardinal’ had been made aware of paedophile priests and covered it up. This is fake news.

    • lbloveday says:

      The Australian hits a new low by publishing this comment effectively calling Pell a criminal.
      Daniel Andrews has confirmed there will not be a state memorial service in Victoria for Cardinal George Pell, arguing that it would distress victims of institutional child sexual abuse.
      1 hour ago
      Why did I pay for Whitlam and Hawke’s state funerals?
      I didn’t want to see that.
      38 minutes ago
      Prime Ministers deserve them over and above criminals!

      • Lewis P Buckingham says:

        Yes this refusal for a state funeral is at best grandstanding.
        George Pell is to buried in Sydney and if alive, he would have humbly declined such an honour.
        Not that he cared for such things.

      • Botswana O'Hooligan says:

        So too has the premier of NSW denied the Cardinal a State funeral and yet he is a card-carrying practicing Roman Catholic just as Andrews is a lapsed RC. One would wish that the Vatican excommunicate them but that won’t happen so one fondly hopes that the electors of both Victoria and NSW remember these events at the next State elections.

  • jgbnote says:

    That was a long stint at Corpus Christi!

  • oldandfeeble says:

    James Franklin, you say that Little, Mulkearns and the provincials “were all behaving the same way, obviously because they were obeying orders”. Would you please elaborate on this. What orders and from whom?

  • padraic says:

    Peter was right to point out the biased focus by the Media on the Catholic Church in relation to child abuse. Pointing out that bias does not excuse the harm done, but it would have been appropriate to cover similar abuses in State run organisations, including State schools. It’s a sad day when media outlets pose as moral guardians when they are not in a position to cast the first stone.

  • Stephen Ireland says:

    The Royal Commissioners failed to recall that in the 1970s things were a little different:

    Around the time that child sexual abuse at Knox Grammar commenced, the Lateline program on ABC radio ran an episode titled Pederasty.
    It was July 1975. An ABC presenter interviewed three self-declared pederasts but made no criticism of their criminality in having sex with young boys.
    When a controversy erupted, Richard Downing, in his official capacity as ABC chairman, had a letter published in The Sydney Morning Herald in which he both defended the pederasty program and called on Australians to “understand the culture” of men who have sex with boys.


    Additionally, the circumstances surrounding the setting up of this Royal Commission could well be recalled and the restrictions placed on its scope of enquiry by the then Prime Minister.

  • Geoff Sherrington says:

    We are in a sad age of Inquisition, in which the Inquisitors are assumed perfect and capable of concluding in favour of those who appointed them. Place yourself in the role of an Inquisitor into juvenile sex acts. What do you personally know of the topic?
    I was 5 when discovery of girls’ different anatomy started. At 8 my Mum whacked our Headmaster vigorously for playing with me. Most of my friends by 12 or so knew and spoke of what parents evaded. What we considered minor and occasional incidents of learning about Life were far from worthy of police time. If you, dear reader, had an early life anything like this, how would you as an Inquisitor find criminal-style fault with priests who did these things to others? You might be inclined to mentally hide your own background with its plus and minus features, hold yourself holier than thou and look for criminality as you in your purity defined it.
    Almost every one of us learned about sex eventually. It is not axiomatic that some learning methods were pure and others were criminal. From that viewpoint, it is not hard to understand that various clergy in the Commission’s report did not feel inclined to spend much time on this diversion from the priestly activity for which they were paid and for which many were proud to conduct as best they could.
    Disclaimer. I am not Catholic, received normal usual education about religion and declined to be interested. My note here is about logic, human conduct and the evil nature of witch hunts. The conduct of the media and some police was horrible. I have no idea about what Cardinal Pell did or did not do to others. It is relevant that he had skills and application to reach a high position.
    The whole episode is tatty, trivial and built upon synthetic impressions of real life. Children are still taught to swim by a throw into the deep end. Why not hold an Inquiry about banning that, you falsely pure people?
    Geoff S

  • Phillip says:

    A union of the practice of “Honest Accurate Professional Journalism” and the ABC is so incompatible that it is beyond the measure of infinity.
    And to think some of my taxes go towards the economy of the ABC.
    Pure filth.
    I listened to ABC RN 5.00pm report on the way home yesterday…..do you think they could bring themselves to give any positive credit to all the great work and reform Cardinal Pell completed within the Church and the Vatican?
    Get real Phillip !!

    Why do these corrupted minds in the ABC still have a job?

    I can only say thank you to the great journalists and staff at Quadrant for bringing truth to the surface.

  • Peter Marriott says:

    Keith Windschuttles book “The Perersecution of George Pell” covers the whole business beautifully with all facts and references, and it’s impossible to read it and not come to the emphatic conclusion that Cardinal Pell was a totally innocent man, and that those who persecuted him are the real villains in this whole rotten episode….at least it was impossible for me.

  • Sydgal says:

    Thank you for this piece, Peter. I also looked at the RC exhibits closely – mainly Searson at Doveton. It is interesting that Milligan has done an ABC piece on that case study today rather than the one on Ballarat.

    Some of the VicPol historical reports on Searson were missing, and the Senior Police Officer called to give evidence, twice I think, was unable to provide any further information.

    The RC cherry picked witnesses to give verbal statements, eg a favoured principal (who appeared on Milligan’s TV program and features in today’s story) but ignored another principal. A senior person from the Catholic Education Office did attend as it was reported he had a medical certificate. He had itemised the problems at the school, many of them being HR matters – the staff did not like Searson inquiring about which teachers might be living together before marriage and pressuring staff to attend 830 Mass during the week. They also objected to him turning off lights to save money and cutting down shade trees. Searson denied abuse of the young student mentioned in Milligan’s story.

    In other exhibits, it’s revealed that a former priest who lived with Searson but later married said Bernard Barrett from Broken Rites contacted him in the mid-90s and then he spent a day a week visiting cafes and hotels to meet with victims. In his oral statement, he uses an Abbott/ Turnbull analogy with respect to changes in church leadership style. How odd.

    • citizen says:

      Milligan’s ABC article misrepresents the incidents with Searson significantly and omits significant facts that don’t suit the ABC narrative. She’s no journalist.

  • PT says:

    Ah yea, Gillard’s “courageous” Royal Commission. One which has deliberately excluded State Schools. If it were a serious attempt to expose the coverup of the sexual abuse of minors and ensure that this does not happen again, it should have applied to State schools as this is no doubt the greatest concentration of these crimes. But they were expressly not included.

    For me the RC was therefore not about trying to halt the sexual abuse of minors in an institutional setting, or about providing justice to victims, because if it were they would not have deliberately excluded the likely greatest number of cases (and ones where it’s ongoing). Instead it was an ideologically driven campaign against Christianity and the Churches as institutions which these people seek to undermine, and especially the Roman Catholic Church. And the focus on Pell is clearly because they saw him as their ideological enemy number one whom they wanted to discredit so they could discredit his public positions on totally unrelated issues.

    • STD says:

      Jan 15 /2023-9.27am eastern standard summer time
      Yes, and whilst this was all happening we were handed the witch’s brew of progressive sacramental sodomy-that is the sham of gay marriage along with Euthanasia and late term Abortions- the moral and ethical destruction of the Christian based society as Marx would have it, was now realised.
      Cardinal Pell was one of – sorry, the only fair dinkum Australian who resolutely and vehemently confronted all the lefts perverted bilge- bring him down and the whole edifice of good would collapse.
      Nothing short of a full Royal Commission is what’s needed and required here, to bring the perpetrators, who actively sort to undermine and pervert the Judicial process, to give a full account.
      Julia Gillard should be asked why the term’s of reference neglected to take into account of the institutionalised protocols that existed for historical child abuse between Government’s and the Police service and Religious organisations of the day, which allowed the media to focus just on the RC church and in particular the honest forthright man George Pell..
      It is my belief that the ABC and key players within her, we’re acting in contempt of court processes throughout the whole sorry saga – We see you, we hear you and most stupidly contemptuously believed you- and the irony we have no choice in funding you.
      All ABC management need to be punted at the very least.
      Maybe the Government should find someone honest and ethical to get in there and completely dismantle the Marxist Cultural left’s media agenda.

  • Sydgal says:

    To me, the RC seemed to focus on attempting to show that there was historical abuse in Catholic Institutions, and that the senior clergy failed to act or “averted’ their eyes or “covered-up”. The title of RC shows this – It’s about Institutional Responses. It’s also obvious at the press conference online the day the RC was announced.

    Some of the witness statements contained in exhibits on the RC site do not seem credible or reliable to me. I have read that the AG at the time changed the RC Act in 2013 so that witnesses could not be questioned. I was surprised when some witnesses read out their statement and then just left.

    It is also interesting to note that the Royal Commissioners put a disclaimer on every victims’ narrative which is published on the RC website. They were not under oath or affirmation but were expected to tell the truth. Some of those statements got saturation coverage in the media at the time. Perhaps the drama distracted from the important detail.

    I looked at some of the extensive material on the site (very hard to navigate), and it is difficult to reconcile the “findings” with the exhibits. Some media are pushing individual stories now in relation to the Peter Searson/Doveton case study and Cardinal Pell not acting. But the grievances listed by the staff were primarily HR-related. The list presented to Cardinal Pell in 1989 did not include sexual abuse allegations, Important memos that show some of the other issues at the time were not cited in the RC Report.

    Sometimes I have wondered whether some of the priests accused in the RC Reports suffered the same fate as Cardinal Pell – but unfortunately they did not have a team behind them carefully scrutinising all the allegations.

  • Searcher says:

    2023 Jan 16 09:30am. As I read the above article by Peter O’Brien, I see O’Brien as writing “There has been a suggestion that Victoria Police are re-examining the Report to ascertain if new criminal charges can be brought against Cardinal Pell. This they have refused to confirm or deny.” Please check for me that O’Brien’s article writes so.

    If that is what O’Brien wrote, I am puzzled. Pell is now dead. When did O’Brien write those words? At the time of writing, did O’Brien know that Pell is now dead? How could police be asking if new criminal charges can be brought against Pell? Is is possible for criminal charges to be brought against a dead man? I can only guess that at the time of writing, O’Brien did not know that Pell is now dead. Please enlighten me. Perhaps the Editor can do so.

  • christopher.coney says:

    Pell’s High Court victory of 7-0, like any unanimous victory, was impressive.

    But two other points make it more impressive.

    The first is the fact that the opinion was a joint one. This is quite rare in High Court judgements, whether majority or unanimous. High Court judges are with few exceptions strong jurists and know how complex the law can be, and they have strong individual minds. All put their pens to a single text in this case.

    And in addition, the opinion was quite short. The minority opinion in the Supreme Court appeal written by Justice Weinberg was a comprehensive 200 pages long. It was finely reasoned, and showed why and how the majority got it wrong. The High Court opinion was not much over 20 pages, most of which was a recounting of the allegations and the reasoning of the Supreme Court judges. The High Court gave very short shrift to the Victorian majority – to have done more than this would have been a waste of time as any half-decent junior lawyer could easily see there was reasonable doubt in this case.

    • STD says:

      Jan 16 /2023 5.10pm ESST.
      Yes, and dissenting from the political agenda on hand would not have bode well for one’s future job prospects- I have no proof , however I think Maxwell and Ferguson acted with incompetence and did a well rehearsed AFL manoeuvre and quietly hand balled the unpopular decision out of Victoria and upstairs to their High Court Justices .
      I believe that this whole Pell fiasco is imbued with corrupt conduct by many participants, at all levels of taint- Police, Politicians, Lawyer’s, Journalist’s and to some/summary degree Jurist’s and the Judiciary.
      And to think that this behaviour manifested itself in supposedly well informed, educated , but obviously not objectively learned people of good character.
      Justice Weinberg was the conduit for reasonable doubt in the face of unreasonable surge of subjectivity..

  • Searcher says:

    Hi Peter O’Brien. Thank you for kindly putting me right.

  • colin_jory says:

    Thank you, Peter O’Brien, for highlighting the Royal Commission’s bizarre damnatory pontifications against Cardinal Pell, supported by no evidence but entirely by gratuitous prejudice.

    However, just as disturbing were the Royal Commission’s decisions regarding which institutions to investigate and which not. No governmental institutions — governmental schools (especially their counsellors), reformatories and orphanages, Medicare, child welfare departments, government hospitals — were investigated. Nor were there any investigations into those non-government bodies with the most extensive dealings with underage young people in relation to their sexual histories such as the family planning associations, abortion counselling services, abortion clinics, rape counselling services, venereal disease services, and private hospitals. And what of “Broken Rites”, the bitterly anti-Catholic private organisation given entirely to exposing sexual misbehaviour by Catholic priests, brothers and employees which the Royal Commission proudly used as a resource? In the committal hearing for Cardinal Pell the spokesman for that body, Bernard Barrett, told that its policy was that when someone claimed to it to have been sexually abused as a minor — including the complainant against Pell which led to the Cardinal’s arrest and trial — not to go to the police themselves, but to encourage the person to do so. In short, there is damning prima facie evidence that the Royal Commission was grossly biased from go to whoa.

    What I must now say might seem perverse, but surely the Catholic Church’s representatives deserve condemnation for not stating at the time what I have said above. Had the Church’s representatives been genuinely concerned about all who as children had suffered sexual abuse in “institutions”, or had their abuse mishandled by institutions, rather than concerned only with those who as children had suffered sexual abuse in Catholic institutiions or had their abuse mishandled by Catholic institutions, those representatives would have said exactly what I have said, and demanded that the Royal Commission expand the scope of its investigations. Why did they not do so? I’ll tell you why. They feared the bad publicity which would have resulted, and were petrified of being accused of trying to diminish Catholic institutioinal responsibility by spreading attention to other institutions. In short, the Church’s representatives put Public Relations far ahead of the interests of the many thousands who as children weresexually abused in non-Catholic institutions, or had their abuse mishandled by non-Catholic institutions. They were grovelling and gutless.

Leave a Reply