Cardinal George Pell knew a law firm defending the Catholic Church in an abuse claim would refuse to mediate, challenge the victim’s claims and oppose it on time limit grounds, an inquiry has heard.
Lawyer Paul McCann, a partner at Corrs Chambers Wesgarth, was giving evidence to the royal commission into child sexual abuse about his firm’s actions for the church and the then-Archbishop of Sydney Dr Pell in 2004.
His firm was instructed to defend the case brought by abuse victim John Ellis.
Mr Ellis was abused for five years by priest Father Aidan Duggan at Bass Hill in Sydney, starting in 1974, when Mr Ellis was 13.
Documents shown to the royal commission showed Mr McCann advised the church would “vigorously defend” the case on the grounds of a time limitation applying to when an action could be commenced.
Mr McCann told the inquiry he “didn’t have any doubt” that Cardinal Pell was being kept up to date with details of the case.
Commissioner Peter McLellan asked Mr McCann whether, in general, he would use a time limit defence if a client did not dispute that damage had been done.
“If a client comes to you and says to you that they accept that the acts causing the damage occurred, would you still give advice to vigorously defend the limitation application?” Justice McLellan asked.
Mr McCann replied: “Your honour, if they were seeking legal advice from me, yes I would.”
Asked how he would justify defending on the grounds of a time limitation even when the facts were accepted, Mr McCann said: “Your honour, I see myself as a lawyer. I was giving legal advice.”
The commission heard details of eight actions taken by Corrs in defending against Mr Ellis’s claim, including a refusal to mediate, a decision to challenge whether Mr Ellis was abused, and the decision to pursue Mr Ellis for costs after he lost his case.
Mr McCann told the commission he was instructed by Cardinal Pell’s private secretary, Michael Casey, and all steps taken by his legal team were with the church’s knowledge and consent.
“It’s obvious from some of the exchanges that he (Cardinal Pell) was seemingly giving instructions as to various steps,” Mr McCann said.
The hearing is continuing.