Cardinal George Pell, the former Vatican treasurer who was released from prison in April after winning an appeal on his clerical sex-abuse conviction, lied about what he knew about abusive priests, according to unredacted parts of a report by an Australian commission investigating the matter.
The lengthy Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Assault report—produced during the investigation of the Diocese of Ballarat, the Archdiocese of Melbourne, and the Australian church’s protocols to address assault claims—was released in 2017, but all segments pertaining to Pell had been blacked out to protect the cardinal against prejudice in his own clerical sex-abuse trial. Pell was convicted of clerical sex abuse in 2018 and served 13 months in prison before his release in early April by an appellate court.
Three of the previously redacted reports, all of which included testimony Pell gave from Rome in 2015, were released on the commission’s website Thursday now that his trial has definitively concluded.
In one report, the commission wrote that it did not accept Pell’s testimony when he said he knew nothing about Australia’s most prolific pedophile priest, Gerald Ridsdale, or about abusive priest Peter Searson. Ridsdale, who is in prison, has been convicted of abusing 69 young victims. Searson died in 2009 awaiting trial. He was never convicted of any of the sex-abuse crimes he was accused of.
The commission found that Pell, as one of the highest-ranking prelates in Australia, had direct knowledge that these men were moved from parish to parish, rather than removed from the priesthood to protect children.
It wrote that Pell “was not only conscious of child sex abuse by clergy but that he also had considered measures of avoiding situations which might provoke gossip about it.” In other words, he contributed to the “culture of secrecy” surrounding one of the biggest scourges of the Catholic Church.
During his testimony, Pell repeatedly told the government inquiry panel that he either did not recall or was never told about either priest, both of whom he had jurisdiction over. On one occasion, he told the court, “I would never have condoned or participated in a decision to transfer Ridsdale in the knowledge that he had abused children, and I did not do so.”
The commission found otherwise, writing, “We do not accept that Bishop Pell was deceived, intentionally or otherwise.” Instead, it believed he knew everything about the “culture of secrecy” about clerical sex abuse in Australia up until the time he left for Rome to become one of Pope Benedict XVI’s closest advisers and, later, Pope Francis’s choice to revamp the Vatican’s economic arm.
Clare Leaney, chief executive of Good Faith Foundation, which advocates for victims of clerical sex abuse, issued a statement to the press Thursday morning. “Today’s released findings confirm what survivors and advocates already knew to be true,” she wrote. “There has been a systematic failure of leadership within the Catholic Church for decades.”
The Vatican did not immediately respond to questions about the newly released report. Pell issued a statement from the seminary in Sydney where he is now staying before returning to Rome that he was “surprised by some of the views” which he insists are “not supported by evidence.”