Cardinal George Pell was convicted in 2018 on charges of child sex abuse that were then overturned with an acquittal last month. Documents that were redacted during his trial appear to show that he lied about what he knew about a pattern of sexual abuse in the church.
Pell first faced trial in 2017 in Melbourne, Australia, for charges that he had sexually abused two boys in the 1990s. This ended, according to Radar Online, in a mistrial, followed by re-trial and a 2018 conviction on all charges. Pell appealed, and in April 2020 the Australian High Court overturned his conviction.
However, the Guardian reports Pell is under investigation for additional allegations of sexual abuse, these from the 1970s, and an older Broken Rites report documents accusations from the 1960s, when Pell was a trainee priest, and is alleged to have repeatedly grabbed the genitals of a 12-year-old boy.
The complainant in that case, who said he also witnessed Pell abusing other boys, is reported in internal documents to have said that upon realizing George Pell had risen to Cardinal, he was shocked, and “he did not think it right that someone who had behaved indecently towards children should lead the church.”
Documents that were redacted during Pell’s trial and fully released only after his acquittal show, that during that leadership, Pell knew more about the broad culture of child sex abuse than he admitted, and that he actively worked to keep it from being revealed.
One such document (pdf) details numerous times that Pell was informed about abuse and failed to act (” On the basis of what was known to Bishop Pell in 1989, we found that it ought to have been obvious to him at the time. We found that he should have advised the archbishop to remove Father Searson and he did not do so.”) and denied the abuse altogether (“We found that Mr Green said to Father Pell ‘We’ve got to do something about what’s going on at St Pat’s’. Father Pell responded, ‘Yes, what do you mean?’, and Mr Green replied, ‘Brother Dowlan is touching little boys’. We found that Father Pell said words to the effect of ‘Don’t be ridiculous’ and walked away.”) This report also describes Pell’s work to change how sexual abuse would be reported.
As the Daily Beast uncovered in the docs, Pell has specifically denied knowledge of sexual abuse by priests who were simply moved from one location to another when allegations arose, and given access to a new batch of victims. The unredacted reports do not support this, and show that Australia’s Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse did not believe it.
In fact, the documents show (pdf) that the Commission believes, on reviewing the evidence, that George Pell worked to maintain the “culture of secrecy” and that he and others “had the capacity and opportunity to persuade the Archbishop to take action on the matters known to them and either did not do so or were ineffectual.”
According to The Catholic Weekly, George Pell denies the contents of the released documents, and says they merely show opinions, not evidence. Through a spokesperson, Pell said he was “surprised” by statements in the report, and asserted that no evidence supported some of the conclusions the Commission drew.
What's Your Reaction?
Steph Bazzle reports on social issues and religion for Hill Reporter. She focuses on stories that speak to everyone's right to practice what they believe in and receive the support of their communities and government officials. You can reach her at Steph@HillReporter.com