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CARDINAL GEORGE PELL FEB 2019 BANNER.jpg
CARDINAL GEORGE PELL FEB 2019.jpg
AP Photo/Andy Brownbill
World News

Australian cardinal failed to remove suspected paedophile priest, inquiry finds

by Press Association

Australian cardinal George Pell knew a notorious paedophile 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 paedophile, a government inquiry has concluded.

A report from the inquiry on child sexual abuse was released in 2017, but findings concerning Pope Francis's 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.

Mr Pell, who now lives in a Sydney seminary, said in a statement he was "surprised by some of the views" of the inquiry, adding: "These views are not supported by evidence."

The inquiry rejected his evidence given by video link from Rome in 2016 that he was deceived and lied to by Catholic Church officials about Australia's worst paedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, and disturbed Melbourne parish priest Peter Searson.

Ridsdale is in prison for sexually abusing boys over three decades.

The 85-year-old 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.

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.

Mr Pell told the inquiry he did not become aware of allegations that Ridsdale was a paedophile until 1993.

The inquiry rejected his 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. Mr Pell was one of the bishop's priest advisers at the time who met regularly to discuss diocese matters.

"Cardinal Pell's evidence that 'paedophilia 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.

The inquiry also found that Mr 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".

Mr Pell was a Melbourne auxiliary bishop when he met a staff delegation from a Catholic primary school to discuss complaints about Searson, whom the inquiry described as an "unstable and disturbed individual".

Complaints included that Searson harassed staff and parents, killed and tortured animals in front of children, threatened children with a pistol and a knife, showed children a body in a coffin and used the children's toilets.

The inquiry found Mr 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," it added.

Timothy Green - who gave evidence at the inquiry that as a boy of 12 or 13 he told Mr Pell in Ballarat in 1994 that Christian Brother Edward Dowlan was "touching little boys" - welcomed the findings, his lawyer Vivian Waller said.

Mr Green told the inquiry that Mr Pell had replied: "Don't be ridiculous," and walked away. Mr Pell did not deny his account.

Mr Green, who is suing the Christian Brothers order over abuses Dowlan committed, regrets not doing more to expose the crimes at the time, Ms Waller said.

"It is utterly heartbreaking that his complaint was not acted upon," she said in a statement. "His worry that he has not done enough for others is equally heartbreaking."

Dowlan was convicted in 2015 of 16 counts of indecent assault against 11 boys, including Mr Green, at four Christian Brothers schools. He was sentenced to six years and six months in prison.

Mr Pell was one of a number of senior Australian church officials criticised by the inquiry over their handling of abuse complaints or allegations against numerous priests and Christian Brothers in Melbourne and Ballarat.

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