CARDINAL George Pell had known of clergy paedophile activity at least as early as 1982 and possibly earlier, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse said in findings released this week. The findings concerning Cardinal Pell, who was last month acquitted of charges of child sexual abuse by the Australian High Court (News, 9 April), had been redacted until Pell’s court processes had run their course.
The findings relate to Cardinal Pell’s conduct as priest in the Victorian diocese of Ballarat, where numerous cases of paedophile activity by Roman Catholic clergy occurred in the 1970s and ’80s. The Commission rejected Cardinal Pell’s evidence that he had not been told that the paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale was being moved from his parish because of child sexual-abuse complaints. The Commission said that it was “implausible” that the then Bishop of Ballarat did not tell Pell and others in a meeting the real reason for Ridsdale’s move. The failure of Pell and others to advise the Bishop in relation to Ridsdale was unacceptable, the Commission said.
The findings mean that the Commission believes that Pell knew of the allegations against Ridsdale at least ten years before his behaviour was investigated by police. Ridsdale has been serving prison sentences since 1993 for multiple convictions of child sexual abuse; now 85, he will not be eligible for parole until 2022.
The Commission has also found that Pell failed to act on complaints about paedophile clergy in Melbourne in the late 1980s and early 1990s when he was an auxiliary bishop in Melbourne, and later when he was Archbishop.
In a statement, Cardinal Pell, who is now living in a Sydney seminary since his release from prison, said that he was “surprised by some of the views of the Royal Commission”, particularly the findings concerning Gerald Ridsdale. “These views are not supported by the evidence,” his statement says.